Chylothorax complicating esophagectomy for cancer: A plea for early thoracic duct ligation

Stefano Merigliano, Daniela Molena, Alberto Ruol, Giovanni Zaninotto, Matteo Cagol, Sabrina Scappin, Ermanno Ancona

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

110 Scopus citations


Objective: Postoperative chylothorax remains an uncommon but potentially life-threatening complication of esophagectomy for cancer, and the ideal management is still controversial. The aim of the study was to compare the outcomes of patients treated nonoperatively with those of patients promptly undergoing reoperation. Methods: From 1980 to 1998, 1787 esophagectomies for esophageal or cardia cancer were performed, and 19 (1.1%) patients had postoperative chylothorax. We analyzed type of operation, surgical approach, delay of diagnosis of chylothorax, daily chest tube output, type of management, major complications, death, hospital stay, and final outcome. Results: Of the 19 patients with chylothtrax, 11 were initially managed nonoperatively (group A): 4 (36%) patients had spontaneous resolution of chylothorax, and the other 7 required reoperation for the persistence of a high-volume output. There were three infectious complications and one postoperative death in this group. No reliable predictive criteria of successful versus unsuccessful nonoperative management could be found. The 8 most recent patients underwent early reoperation (group B). All patients recovered, and no major complications possibly related to chylothorax or hospital deaths were observed. They were discharged after a median of 22 days (range, 12-85 days) compared with a median of 36 days (range, 21-64 days) for patients of group A. Conclusions: Early thoracic duct ligation is the treatment of choice for chylothorax occurring after esophagectomy. Reoperation should be performed immediately after the diagnosis is made to avoid the complications related to nutritional and immunologic depletion caused by prolonged nonoperative treatment.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)453-457
Number of pages5
JournalJournal of Thoracic and Cardiovascular Surgery
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2000
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cardiology and Cardiovascular Medicine
  • Surgery


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