Background: Neoadjuvant chemoradiotherapy (nCRT) plus surgery is a standard treatment for locally advanced oesophageal cancer. With this treatment, 29% of patients have a pathologically complete response in the resection specimen. This provides the rationale for investigating an active surveillance approach. The aim of this study is to assess the (cost-)effectiveness of active surveillance vs. standard oesophagectomy after nCRT for oesophageal cancer.
Methods: This is a phase-III multi-centre, stepped-wedge cluster randomised controlled trial. A total of 300 patients with clinically complete response (cCR, i.e. no local or disseminated disease proven by histology) after nCRT will be randomised to show non-inferiority of active surveillance to standard oesophagectomy (non-inferiority margin 15%, intra-correlation coefficient 0.02, power 80%, 2-sided α 0.05, 12% drop-out). Patients will undergo a first clinical response evaluation (CRE-I) 4-6 weeks after nCRT, consisting of endoscopy with bite-on-bite biopsies of the primary tumour site and other suspected lesions. Clinically complete responders will undergo a second CRE (CRE-II), 6-8 weeks after CRE-I. CRE-II will include 18F-FDG-PET-CT, followed by endoscopy with bite-on-bite biopsies and ultra-endosonography plus fine needle aspiration of suspected lymph nodes and/or PET- positive lesions. Patients with cCR at CRE-II will be assigned to oesophagectomy (first phase) or active surveillance (second phase of the study). The duration of the first phase is determined randomly over the 12 centres, i.e., stepped-wedge cluster design. Patients in the active surveillance arm will undergo diagnostic evaluations similar to CRE-II at 6/9/12/16/20/24/30/36/48 and 60 months after nCRT. In this arm, oesophagectomy will be offered only to patients in whom locoregional regrowth is highly suspected or proven, without distant dissemination. The main study parameter is overall survival; secondary endpoints include percentage of patients who do not undergo surgery, quality of life, clinical irresectability (cT4b) rate, radical resection rate, postoperative complications, progression-free survival, distant dissemination rate, and cost-effectiveness. We hypothesise that active surveillance leads to non-inferior survival, improved quality of life and a reduction in costs, compared to standard oesophagectomy.
Discussion: If active surveillance and surgery as needed after nCRT leads to non-inferior survival compared to standard oesophagectomy, this organ-sparing approach can be implemented as a standard of care.
Keywords: Active surveillance; Neoadjuvant chemoradiotherapy; Oesophageal cancer; Standard oesophagectomy.