Purpose: Photodynamic therapy (PDT) has shown remarkable activity in a variety of human cancers. In the present study, we report the effects of PDT on inoperable early-stage esophageal cancer.
Methods and materials: Sixty-two patients were treated with an argon dye laser (630 nm wavelength, 300-800 mW of power, energy dose of 200-300 J/cm) after intravenous injection of 5 mg/kg of hematoporphyrin derivative. Eighteen patients (29.5%) had in situ carcinoma (Tis), 30 (48.5%) had T1-stage cancer, 7 (11%) had T2-stage cancer, and 7 (11%) had recurrent disease in the anastomotic area after previous surgery without evidence of invasion outside the lumen. Patients with residual disease after two rounds of PDT received definitive radiotherapy. Patients were evaluated for response to therapy and survival. The follow-up time ranged from 3 to 90 months (median, 32 months).
Results: The complete response (CR) rate was 37% (23 of 62) in patients who received PDT alone and 82% (51 of 62) in those who also received radiotherapy. The CR rate after PDT alone was statistically higher (p = 0.04) for patients who had Tis/T1 lesions (21 of 48; 44%) than for those with T2-stage disease (2 of 7; 28%) or recurrent tumors (0 of 7; 0%). Fifty-two percent of patients who had CR following PDT alone did not suffer local tumor recurrence. The median local progression-free survival times after PDT and additional radiotherapy (in cases with incomplete response) was 49 months for Tis- and T1-stage lesions, 30 months for those with T2-stage disease, and 14 months for patients with locally recurrent disease. Patients who completely responded to PDT had a median overall survival (OS) of 50 months, which was significantly longer (p < 0.003) than that of patients not responding to PDT. Toxicity was minimal; we recorded three cases of esophageal stenosis (7%) and one case of tracheo-esophageal fistula (2.5%) after combined PDT and radiotherapy.
Conclusion: PDT is an effective regimen for early esophageal cancer, giving a CR rate of about 40%, long-term local control and favorable overall survival. Additional radiotherapy in cases of incomplete response to PDT is effective and potentially curative in another 45% of cases.