Purpose of review: The present review is focused on the management of lymphatic, chylous, and thoracic duct lesions following head and neck surgery, with particular attention to these complications after neck dissection. Postoperative scenarios may include chylous fistula, chylothorax, chylomediastinum, chylopericardium, lymphocele, persistent lymphorrhea, and secondary lymphedema.
Recent findings: There is a paucity of literature on the treatment of lymphatic, chylous, and thoracic duct injuries following head and neck surgery; however, this review suggests that the most appropriate treatment should include both conservative and surgical approaches. Nonsurgical options consist of low-fat diet with medium-chain triglycerides, total parenteral nutrition, careful monitoring of fluid and electrolytes, drainage of the leakage, somatostatin analogs such as octreotide, and negative-pressure wound therapy. On the other hand, surgical management includes therapeutic percutaneous lymphography-guided thoracic duct cannulation and embolization, thoracic duct ligation, excision and imbrication of leaking lymphatics, chylous fistula surgical/microsurgical repair, fistula closure by locoregional flaps, video-assisted thoracoscopic surgery, thoracotomy, pleurodesis and decortication, pericardial ‘window’, and pleura–venous/pleura–peritoneal shunts. In addition, single or, preferably, multiple lymphovenous anastomoses may be taken into account.
Summary: The various possible clinical presentations of such challenging lymphatic, chylous, and thoracic duct injuries require an appropriate multidisciplinary approach by experienced teams. Primary prevention of these complications can be achieved through adequate surgical planning to minimize lesions, including structured and thorough patient assessment, and centralization of resources and teams.