Background: Patients with esophageal cancer have poor overall survival, with positive resection margins worsening survival. Margin positivity rates are used as quality measures in other malignancies, but modifiable risk factors are necessary to develop actionable targets for improvement. Our objectives were to (1) evaluate trends in esophageal cancer margin positivity, and (2) identify modifiable patient/hospital factors associated with margin positivity. Methods: Patients who underwent esophagectomy from 2004 to 2015 were identified from the National Cancer Database. Trends in margin positivity by time and hospital volume were evaluated using Cochrane–Armitage tests. Associations between patient/hospital factors and margin positivity were assessed by multivariable logistic regression. Results: Among 29,706 patients who underwent esophagectomy for cancer, 9.37% had positive margins. Margin positivity rates decreased over time (10.62% in 2004 to 8.61% in 2015; p < 0.001). Older patients (≥ 75 years) were more likely to have positive margins [odds ratio (OR) 2.04, 95% confidence interval (CI) 1.42–2.92], as were patients with a Charlson–Deyo Index ≥ 3 (OR 1.84, 95% CI 1.08–3.12). Patients who received neoadjuvant therapy were less likely to have positive margins (OR 0.37, 95% CI 0.29–0.47), while laparoscopic surgical approach was associated with increased margin positivity (OR 1.70, 95% CI 1.40–2.06). As the hospital annual esophagectomy volume increased, margin positivity rates decreased (7.76% in the fourth quartile vs. 11.39% in the first quartile; OR 0.70, 95% CI 0.49–0.99). Conclusions: Use of neoadjuvant therapy, surgical approach, and hospital volume are modifiable risk factors for margin positivity in esophageal cancer. These factors should be considered in treatment planning, and margin positivity rates could be considered as a quality measure in esophageal cancer.
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