BackgroundInformation on the optimal salvage regimen for recurrent esophageal cancer is scarce. We aimed to assess the patterns of locoregional failure, and evaluate the therapeutic efficacy of salvage therapy along with the prognostic factors in recurrent thoracic esophageal squamous cell carcinoma (TESCC) after radical esophagectomy.MethodsA total of 193 TESCC patients who were diagnosed with recurrence after radical surgery and received salvage treatment at our hospital were retrospectively reviewed from 2004 to 2014. The patterns of the first failure were assessed. The post-recurrence survival rate was determined using the Kaplan-Meier method and analyzed using the log-rank test. Multivariate prognostic analysis was performed using the Cox proportional hazard model.ResultsThe median time of failure was 7.0 months. Among the 193 patients, 163 exhibited isolated locoregional lymph node (LN) recurrence and 30 experienced locoregional LN relapse with hematogenous metastasis. Among the 193 patients, LN recurrence was noted at 302 sites; the most common sites included the supraclavicular (25.8%; 78/302) and mediastinal LNs (44.4%; 134/302), particularly stations 1 to 6 for the mediastinal LNs (36.4%; 110/302). The median overall survival (OS) was 13.1 months after recurrence. In those treated with salvage chemoradiotherapy, with radiotherapy, and without radiotherapy, the 1-year OS rates were 68.5, 55.0, and 28.6%; the 3-year OS rates were 35.4, 23.8, and 2.9%; and the 5-year OS rates were 31.8, 17.2, 2.9%, respectively (P < 0.001). Furthermore, patient survival in those who received salvage chemoradiotherapy was significantly better than those treated with salvage radiotherapy alone (P = 0.044). Multivariate analysis showed that the pathological TNM stage and salvage treatment regimen were independent prognostic factors.ConclusionsSupraclavicular and mediastinal LN failure were the most common types of recurrence after R0 surgery in TESCC patients. Salvage chemoradiotherapy or radiotherapy could significantly improve survival in esophageal cancer with locoregional LN recurrence.