Rigid esophagoscopy (RE) was once an essential part of the evaluation of patients with head and neck squamous cell carcinoma (HNSCC) due to the high likelihood of identifying a synchronous malignant neoplasm in the esophagus. Given recent advances in imaging and endoscopic techniques and changes in the incidence of esophageal cancer, the current role for RE in HNSCC staging is unclear.
To analyze the current role of RE in evaluating patients with HNSCC, and to determine the incidence of synchronous esophageal malignant neoplasms in patients with HNSCC.
Design, Setting, and Participants
In this retrospective study performed at an academic tertiary care center, 582 patients were studied who had undergone RE for HNSCC staging from July 1, 2004, through October 31, 2012. To assess the incidence of synchronous esophageal malignant neoplasms, a literature review was performed, and the National Cancer Institute’s Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results (SEER) data set was queried.
Main Outcomes and Measures
The primary outcome measure was the incidence of synchronous esophageal malignant neoplasms, as measured by retrospective review at our institution, SEER data set analysis, and literature review. Secondary outcome measures were RE complications and nonmalignant findings during RE.
A total of 601 staging REs were performed in 582 patients. The mean age was 60.2 years and 454 (78.0%) were men. There were 9 complications (1.5%), including 1 esophageal perforation (0.2%). Rigid esophagoscopy was aborted in 50 cases. Of the 551 completed REs, no abnormal findings were noted in 523 patients (94.9%), and nonmalignant pathologic findings were identified in 28 patients (5.1%). No synchronous primary esophageal carcinomas were detected. The incidence of synchronous esophageal malignant neoplasms found on screening endoscopy based on literature review and on SEER data set analysis was very low and has decreased from 1980 to 2010 in North America. The incidence reported in South America and Asia was relatively high.
Conclusions and Relevance
Rigid esophagoscopy is safe, but the utility is low for cancer staging and for detection of nonmalignant esophageal disease. Review of the literature and analysis of a large national cancer data set indicate that the incidence of synchronous esophageal malignant neoplasms in patients with HNSCC is low and has been decreasing during the past 3 decades. Thus, screening esophagoscopy should be limited to patients with HNSCC who are at high risk for synchronous esophageal malignant neoplasms.