Background: Dysphagia is a major symptom of esophageal cancer (EC) that significantly affects patient quality of life; however, little is known regarding its clinical impact on the treatment course in patients with EC. Methods: This retrospective study included 434 consecutive patients with EC who received docetaxel, cisplatin, and 5-fluorouracil (DCF) chemotherapy as an initial treatment. We evaluated the relationships between the dysphagia score at diagnosis and clinicopathological factors, including DCF therapy-related adverse events, tumor response, and survival. Results: The dysphagia scores were 0 in 208 patients (47.9%), 1 in 82 patients (18.9%), 2 in 52 patients (12.0%), 3 in 59 patients (13.6%), and 4 in 33 patients (7.6%). High (≥ 3) dysphagia scores were significantly associated with high incidences of grade 3/4 febrile neutropenia (FN) (79.3 vs. 35.7%, P < 0.001) and diarrhea (63.0 vs. 28.1%, P < 0.001) compared with low (≤ 2) scores. Logistic regression analysis further identified the dysphagia scores as an independent predictor of both FN and severe diarrhea during DCF chemotherapy. Furthermore, compared with low scores, high dysphagia scores were associated with a worse clinical response to chemotherapy (response rate 65.2 vs. 78.7%, P = 0.008) and worse 5-year overall survival (35.4 vs. 56.4%, P = 0.001). Conclusions: The dysphagia score at diagnosis was an independent predictor of FN and severe diarrhea. Furthermore, this score might be useful in predicting chemotherapy response and long-term survival in patients treated with DCF.
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