Background: Small cell carcinoma of the esophagus is regarded as having a poor prognosis with frequent systemic dissemination.
Methods: A review of the records and histologic sections of 11 patients with primary small cell carcinoma of the esophagus seen in 11 years was undertaken. They were analyzed and compared with the more common squamous cell carcinomas and adenocarcinomas.
Results: Small cell carcinoma of the esophagus constituted 1% of all esophageal tumors and was mainly located at the middle and lower thirds (90%) of the esophagus. Primary treatment consisted of tumor resection in five patients (46%), chemotherapy and radiotherapy in two (18%); surgical bypass in one (9%), radiotherapy after exploratory laparotomy in one (9%), intubation in one (9%), and no active intervention in one (9%). Two of the five resected tumors were Stage IIB disease, and three were Stage III disease. Five of the six patients in the non-resection group had distant metastases at presentation (45% of all patients). The median survival of patients who had chemotherapy (three of whom also had radiotherapy) was 16.7 months (range, 2.8-72 months) and was 2.2 months (range, 4 days to 9.1 months) for those with no chemotherapy. The overall median survival was 3.1 months for all patients. The prognosis was not significantly different from those with squamous cell carcinomas or adenocarcinomas.
Conclusions: Small cell carcinoma of the esophagus should be regarded as a systemic disease, and multimodality treatment, including chemotherapy, should be used. Surgery may be offered in selected patients to manage local disease as part of a chemotherapy-based treatment program.