Background: Survival of patients with cT4 esophageal cancer is dismal. Although the optimal treatment strategy remains to be established, two treatment options are available for cT4 esophageal cancers: definitive chemoradiation (dCRT) and induction treatment followed by conversion surgery (CS). However, little is known concerning the differences in clinical outcome between patients with T4 esophageal tumors treated with dCRT and those eventually treated with CS. Methods: A systematic search of the scientific literature on PubMed/MEDLINE was carried out using the keywords “T4 esophageal cancer,” “invading (involving) adjacent organ,” “definitive chemoradiation,” “induction therapy,” “salvage surgery,” and “conversion surgery,” obtaining 28 reports published up to July 2018. Results/Conclusion: We found that CS was superior to dCRT with respect to local disease control and short-term survival; however, CS was associated with relatively higher perioperative mortality and morbidity. Alternatively, although dCRT might often cause fistula formation, a clinical complete response to dCRT is likely to lead to a better prognosis. Recent advances in chemotherapeutic agents have led to triple induction chemotherapy, with docetaxel, cisplatin, and 5-fluorouracil (DCF), which has shown promise as an initial induction treatment for cT4 esophageal cancer. Indeed, this regimen could control both local and systemic disease, which enables curative resection without preoperative CRT. Moreover, some appropriate changes in perioperative management and intensive systemic chemotherapy might enhance patient outcome. Randomized controlled trials with a large sample size are needed to establish the standard treatment for cT4 esophageal cancer.
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