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Analysis of Reduced Death and Complication Rates After Esophageal Resection

Whooley, Brian P. MD*; Law, Simon MB, BChir, FRCS (Ed), FACS; Murthy, Sudish C. MD, PhD; Alexandrou, Andreas MD; Wong, John PhD, FRACS, FACS


Objective To identify factors that have contributed to reduced rates of death and complications after esophageal resection in a 17-year period at a tertiary referral center.

Summary Background Data There has been an evolving refinement in surgical technique and perioperative management of patients undergoing esophageal resection at Queen Mary Hospital during the past two decades. As of the end of 1998, there had been no hospital deaths among the last 105 consecutive resections performed for esophageal squamous cancer.

Methods The results of esophageal resection for squamous cell carcinoma were analyzed using a prospective esophageal database. A longitudinal study was performed to compare and analyze rates of death and complications for three consecutive time periods.

Results The study group comprised 710 patients who underwent one-stage esophageal resection between 1982 and 1998. A transthoracic esophagectomy was the preferred approach in 590 patients (83%). The overall hospital death rate was 11%. The leading causes of hospital death were pulmonary complications (45.5%) and progression of malignant disease (21.5%); anastomotic leakage accounted for 9% of deaths. During the study period, the hospital death rate decreased from 16% to 3.2%, and the incidence of postoperative respiratory failure decreased from 15.5% to 6.5%. Perioperative factors that correlated with the decreased death rate over time were the increased postoperative use of epidural analgesia and bronchoscopy (for clearance of pulmonary secretions), a decrease in history of smoking, and a decrease in surgical blood loss of more than 1,000 mL.

Conclusions In this series of predominantly transthoracic esophagectomies, there has been a decline in the hospital death rate to less than 5%. These results are largely attributable to factors aimed at reducing postoperative pulmonary complications.

From the *Department of Surgery, St. Vincent’s Hospital and Medical Center, New York Medical College, New York City, New York, and the †Division of Esophageal Surgery, Department of Surgery, University of Hong Kong Medical Centre, Queen Mary Hospital, Hong Kong, China

Supported by International Union Against Cancer (UICC) International Cancer Technology Transfer Fellowship Award.

Correspondence: Professor John Wong, Department of Surgery, University of Hong Kong Medical Centre, Queen Mary Hospital, Hong Kong, China.


Accepted for publication October 6, 2000.

© 2001 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.