Assess outcomes following intrathoracic leaks after esophagectomy from 1970 to 2004 to evaluate the impact of evolving surgical and perioperative techniques on leak-associated mortality (LAM).
Summary Background Data:
An intrathoracic leak following esophagectomy has historically been considered a catastrophic event, with mortality as high as 71%. Concerns about this complication often affect choice of surgical approach for esophagectomy.
A retrospective review of all esophagectomies for cancer from 1970 to 2004 (n = 1223) was performed. Outcomes following intrathoracic anastomoses (n = 621) were analyzed by era: historical 1970–1986 (n = 145) and modern 1987–2004 (n = 476).
There was no difference in the frequency of leak between the time intervals (4.8% versus 6.3%, P = 0.5). Despite a significant increase in the use of preoperative chemoradiation (1% versus 42%, P < 0.001) in the historical versus modern era, the overall mortality decreased from 11% to 2.5% (P < 0.001). The LAM was markedly reduced from 43% to 3.3% (P = 0.016). Factors associated with LAM included failure to use enteral nutrition (HR 13.22, CI 1.8–96.8) and era in which the surgery was performed (HR 18.3, 1.9–180). Other differences included an increased proportion of successful reoperations for leak control (11/30 versus 0/7, P = 0.08) and use of reinforcing muscle flaps (7/11). In the modern era, perioperative mortality is not significantly different for patients with or without intrathoracic leaks (3.3% versus 2.5%, P = 0.55), nor is long-term survival (P = 0.16).
Modern surgical management of intrathoracic leaks results in no increased mortality and has no impact on long-term survival. Clinical decisions regarding the use of intrathoracic anastomoses should not be affected by concerns of increased mortality from leak.