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Oncologist. 2005 Sep;10(8):590-601.

Targeted therapies for esophageal cancer.

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Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, Department of Medicine, New York, NY 10021, USA.


Esophageal cancer is a highly aggressive neoplasm. In 2005, 14,520 Americans will be diagnosed with esophageal cancer, and more than 90% will die of their disease. On a global basis, cancer of the esophagus is the sixth leading cause of cancer death worldwide. In fact, gastric and esophageal cancers together accounted for nearly 1.3 million new cases and 980,000 deaths worldwide in 2000-more than lung, breast, or colorectal cancer. Although esophageal squamous cell carcinoma cases have steadily declined, the incidence of gastroesophageal junction adenocarcinoma has increased 4%-10% per year among U.S. men since 1976, more rapidly than for any other cancer type, and parallels rises in population trends in obesity and reflux disease. With advances in surgical techniques and treatment, the prognosis of esophageal cancer has slowly improved over the past three decades. However, the 5-year overall survival rate (14%) remains poor, even in comparison with the dismal survival rates (4%) from the 1970s. The underlying reasons for this disappointingly low survival rate are multifold: (a) ineffective screening tools and guidelines; (b) cancer detection at an advanced stage, with over 50% of patients with unresectable disease or distant metastasis at presentation; (c) high risk for recurrent disease after esophagectomy or definitive chemoradiotherapy; (d) unreliable noninvasive tools to measure complete response to chemoradiotherapy; and (e) limited survival achieved with palliative chemotherapy alone for patients with metastatic or unresectable disease. Clearly, additional strategies are needed to detect esophageal cancer earlier and to improve our systemic treatment options. Over the past decade, the field of drug development has been transformed with the identification of and ability to direct treatment at specific molecular targets. This review focuses on novel targeted treatments in development for esophageal squamous cell carcinoma and distal esophageal and gastroesophageal junction adenocarcinoma.

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