Esophageal cancer has a poor prognosis, with 5-year survival rates ranging from 20% to 35% in the nonmetastatic setting. Despite advances in surgical techniques and optimization of chemoradiotherapy regimens, overall survival benefits have been incremental at best. Esophageal cancer requires a concerted multidisciplinary approach, perhaps more so than any other tumor type given the integral role played by the esophagus in maintaining calorific intake and the propensity for early spread through the lymphatics. This review describes the latest in surgical techniques to minimize postoperative complications and examines previous and ongoing systemic therapy approaches. Strategies that harness a patient’s own immune system hold great promise, and shifting checkpoint inhibitors from the metastatic setting to the neoadjuvant/adjuvant setting is currently being evaluated in phase II and III clinical trials. In addition, a much better understanding of the interplay between tumors and their immune microenvironment is clearly needed to better judge how best to engage each patient’s immune system, and there will be likely demonstrable differences between early-stage tumors and metastatic disease. This review highlights emerging data, which demonstrate that, in addition to The Cancer Genome Atlas classification of esophageal squamous cell carcinoma having a distinct molecular makeup compared with esophageal adenocarcinoma, there are also differing responses to PD-1 inhibitors. Histology and the underlying immune milieu may have important ramifications for the management of localized disease in the future, above and beyond PD-L1 expression, microsatellite instability status, and tumor mutational burden.
Submitted May 16, 2019; accepted for publication June 27, 2019.
Disclosures: Dr. Kelly has disclosed that he has served on advisory boards for Bristol Myers-Squibb, Eli Lilly, Novartis, AstraZeneca, and Merck; has received grant/research support from Bristol Myers-Squibb, Eli Lilly, and AstraZeneca; and has worked as a consultant for Cardinal Health.