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News Release

For immediate use

June 5, 2006 -- No. 295

Multimodality therapies trump surgery
alone for treatment of esophageal cancer

CHAPEL HILL – Results of a multi-center study comparing treatment modalities for esophageal cancer show an advantage to undergoing multimodality therapy as opposed to one type of treatment.

Study investigators report that the median survival among patients receiving chemotherapy and radiation followed by surgery is 4.5 years compared to 1.8 years among patients treated only with surgery. Their findings will be presented at 10 a.m. Monday (June 5) during the annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology in Atlanta.

Participating in the trial were 56 patients enrolled through the cooperative group Cancer and Leukemia Group B (CALGB) between 1997 and 2000. Of the 56 patients, 26 were treated with surgery alone while 30 were treated with cisplatin, fluorouracil (5 FU) and radiation therapy followed by surgical removal of the esophagus. The drugs cisplatin and 5FU were given in weeks one and five, concurrent with daily radiation therapy.

Side effects from the radiation and chemotherapy included temporary low white count, inflammation of the esophagus and difficulty swallowing.

This randomized trial demonstrated a long-term survival advantage with the use of chemotherapy and radiation followed by surgery in the treatment of esophageal cancer.
Dr. Joel Tepper, professor and chair of radiation oncology at the UNC School of Medicine and study co-principal investigator, said: “Even though it’s a small number of patients, the study has shown a convincing survival advantage with more aggressive therapy, presumably related to the ability of radiation and chemotherapy to more effectively control the primary tumor located in the esophagus.” Tepper also is a member of UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center.

Other studies have also suggested an advantage to more aggressive therapy but have not been able to demonstrate a statistically significant survival advantage.

In addition to UNC, other study leaders are the University of Maryland Greenebaum Cancer Center in Baltimore; the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston; the University of Virginia School of Medicine in Charlottesville; Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago; and the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston. Funding for the study was provided by the National Cancer Institute, a unit of the National Institutes of Health.


Note: From Saturday (June 3) through Monday (June 5) – during the American Society of Clinical Oncology meetings in Atlanta – journalists seeking an interview with Tepper should contact Tom Hughes at (919) 741-8840 or

UNC Medicine contacts: Les Lang, (919) 843-9687,; Dianne Shaw, (919) 966-7834 or