Background: Epidemiologic studies have provided evidence that alcohol abuse is an important risk factor for esophageal carcinoma. However, no systematic screening program has been established yet in the early detection of esophageal cancer in high risk populations of heavy drinkers.
Methods: A cohort of 629 male alcoholics (54 +/- 8 years old) were consecutively and systematically screened by endoscopy combined with iodine staining and targeted biopsy at the National Institute on Alcoholism (Kanagawa, Japan). For mucosal carcinomas, endoscopic esophageal mucosal resection (EEMR) was used to serve confirmatory diagnostic and therapeutic purposes.
Results: Iodine-unstained lesions, distinctly demarcated, white, and 5 mm or larger in greatest dimension, were observed on the esophageal wall in 162 patients (25.8%). Thirty-six such unstained lesions in 21 of 629 patients, with an unexpectedly high rate of 3.3%, turned out to be squamous cell carcinomas of the superficial type. According to some established criteria, EEMR was performed in 17 of these patients, 3 of whom were given additional irradiation. Esophagectomy was performed in two patients, chemotherapy combined with irradiation in one, whereas still another was followed endoscopically. The cancer invasion was confined within the epithelium in eight patients, to the proper mucosal layer in nine, and to the submucosa in four. Multiple logistic regression revealed that the risks for distinct iodine-unstained lesions and superficial esophageal carcinoma increased independently for users of stronger alcoholic beverages, i.e., whiskey or shochu (odds ratio [OR] = 1.47 and 2.94, respectively) compared with lighter beverages, i.e., sake or beer and 30+ cigarettes/day (OR = 1.68 and 3.85, respectively).
Conclusion: Routine application of this program for these high risk individuals yielded an unusually high rate of detection of esophageal carcinoma.