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J Am Coll Surg. 2002 Mar;194(3):285-97.

Early complications after Ivor Lewis subtotal esophagectomy with two-field lymphadenectomy: risk factors and management.

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Northern Esophago-Gastric Cancer Unit, Royal Victoria Infirmary, Newcastle upon Tyne, United Kingdom.



Esophageal resection represents a major surgical and physiologic insult carrying major morbidity and mortality. We present the results of esophagectomy in a specialist unit with emphasis on early complications and their management.


From January 4, 1990 through January 6, 2000, 228 patients have undergone Ivor Lewis subtotal esophagectomy with two-field lymphadenectomy for malignancy under the care of one surgeon. The median age was 64 years (range 39 to 77 years), with a male to female ratio of 2.3:1 and a predominance of adenocarcinoma (n = 146) compared with squamous cell carcinoma (n = 75) and other tumors (n = 7). Detailed prospective data were collected on preoperative status, operative parameters, and postoperative complications.


Median ICU stay was 1 day (range 1 to 47 days) and the median postoperative hospital stay in patients surviving surgery (n= 219) was 13 days (range 9 to 159 days). There were 119 separate postoperative complications occurring in 45% of patients (102 of 228), comprising predominantly pulmonary morbidity. Major respiratory complications (17%) were significantly associated with poor preoperative spirometry (p = 0.002) and a history of smoking (p = 0.03). Seven percent of patients (16 of 228) suffered cardiovascular or thromboembolic complications. Major surgical complications occurred in 10% of patients (22 of 228) including mediastinal leaks in 4%. Isolated anastomotic leaks (2%) were successfully treated conservatively in all cases; extensive leaks from ischemic gastric conduits (1%) or gastrotomy dehiscence (1%) underwent further exploration and either local repair or resection and exclusion. Reoperation for hemostasis was required in 3% (6 of 228) and only 1% of patients (2 of 228) developed chyle leaks. Thirty-day mortality was 2%, rising to 4% for in-hospital mortality. The nine fatalities were significantly older (p = 0.02) than those who survived and 67% (6 of 9) had suffered primary surgical complications.


Overall morbidity after radical esophagectomy is high, but early recognition and aggressive management of complications can minimize subsequent mortality. Concentration of facilities and surgical expertise in specialist units together with more careful patient selection can decrease mortality further.

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