A new combination of radiation and chemotherapy can dramatically extend the lives of people with cancer of the esophagus and bring the disease "out of the realm of the totally incurable," doctors report.

Until now, people with cancer of the esophagus have been typically treated with radiation or surgery, which can slow but not stop the deadly tumor.In a new study, doctors from Wayne State University tested an aggressive combination of radiation and chemotherapy, which has been used successfully in treating cancer of the head and neck.

Dr. Arnold M. Herskovic outlined the findings Monday at the annual scientific meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology.

"This study does not mean we have cured esophageal cancer," he said. "It means we know a way to go."

In a study on 120 patients, 42 percent of those getting the treatment were alive after two years, compared with 10 percent receiving radiation alone.

"It brings esophageal cancer out of the realm of the totally incurable, into the survivable," commented Dr. Carol Westbrook of the University of Chicago.

Dr. J. Gordon McVie of the Cancer Research Campaign in London added, "It's a staggering difference. The two-year survival is quite exceptional."