Jolie Ringash, MD, MSc
Department of Radiation Oncology,
Princess Margaret Hospital
University Health Network,
Esophageal and gastric carcinomas are primarily diseases of older persons. Of 498 new cases of esophageal cancer in Ontario in 1997, 237 (48%) occurred in individuals aged 65 to 79, and 101 (20%) in those over the age of 80. The corresponding numbers for gastric cancer are (of a total of 1,032 cases) 492 (48%) for those aged 65 to 79, and 200 (19%) for those over 80.1 For all age groups, gastric cancer is decreasing in incidence, with only 2, 800 cases in Canada in the year 2000. In contrast, the incidence of esophageal cancers is gradually increasing (1,350 cases in 2000).2,3 Adenocarcinoma, primarily of the distal esophagus, has replaced squamous cell carcinoma as the most frequent histology. Tumours of the gastroesophageal junction pose a particular challenge, since management may differ depending on whether the tumour is felt to originate in esophagus or stomach.
Canadian oncologists frequently face difficult treatment decisions in the elderly. Unfortunately, since older patients are usually excluded from clinical trials, evidence for their tolerance of, and response to, therapeutic radiation is limited. Existing reports are limited to retrospective reviews and subgroup analyses, many of which originate in Japan.