Background: It is important to diagnose distant metastases disease in patients with newly diagnosed esophageal carcinoma, so that unwarranted surgery and its attendant risks are avoided. The purpose of this study was to determine (1) the percentage of esophageal cancer patients with distant metastases (M1) at presentation, (2) the locations of these distant metastases, and (3) how the metastases were diagnosed.
Methods: All patients at the University of Michigan Medical Center with newly diagnosed esophageal cancer between 1982 and July, 1993, were identified. Records for these 838 patients were reviewed, and patients were classified as having M0 or M1 disease at presentation. For patients with M1 disease, the locations of distant metastases and the methods of diagnosis were recorded.
Results: One hundred forty-seven of 838 (18%) patients had M1 disease. In 110 of 147 (75%) patients, M1 disease was detected before surgery via imaging or physical examination, including 102 of 147 (69%) via chest or abdominal computed tomography (CT). In no case staged as M0 by abdominal and chest CT was M1 disease detected on bone scan or head CT. Distant metastases were most commonly diagnosed in abdominal lymph nodes (45%), followed by liver (35%), lung (20%), cervical/supraclavicular lymph nodes (18%), bone (9%), adrenal (5%), peritoneum (2%), brain (2%), and stomach, pancreas, pleura, skin/body wall, pericardium, and spleen (each 1%).
Conclusion: A significant percentage of patients with esophageal cancer have M1 disease at presentation. Imaging of the chest and abdomen is an effective method of screening such patients for M1 disease before treatment.