Chylothorax following oesophagogastrectomy for malignant disease1

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To define the incidence, causes, management and impact of Chylothorax after oesophagogastrectomy for malignant disease in Nottingham Thoracic Surgery unit.

Patients and methods:

Retrospective analysis of 523 patients with cancer of the oesophagus or the gastro-oesophageal junction who underwent oesophageal resection between January 1987 and November 1997 in a single unit using similar techniques and uniform routine perioperative management.


Chylothorax occurred in 21 patients (4.0%). There were 12 males and 9 females with a mean age of 64.7 years (SD 7.5). Age, sex, tumour site, length, histological type, depth of wall penetration, nodal status and type of operative approach were not significant predisposing factors on univariate and multivariate analysis. Seventeen patients were treated conservatively (four deaths, 23.5%) and four surgically (one death, 25.0%), effective control of the chylous leak being achieved in all four cases. Eleven patients with a chylous drainage of up to 2.2 l/day, diminishing within 1 week of conservative treatment had an uneventful recovery. However, a chylous drainage of more than 2.5 l/day in the remaining ten patients was associated with increased morbidity, hospital stay, operative mortality and the need for surgical intervention. In comparison with the remaining patients (n=502), those who developed chylothorax (n=21) had more respiratory complications (42.8%, P=0.008), longer mean hospital stay (23.8 days, P=0.004), higher operative mortality (23.1%, P=0.004) and, unexpectedly, reduced 5 year survival rate (P<0.0001).


There appeared to be no clear predisposing factor in the development of a chylous leak other than the routine extensive dissection. Although definitive conclusions can not be drawn, where there is early reduction of the initial amount (in this series up to 2.2 l/day) of drainage, there may be a place for successful non-surgical management; in cases of high output chylothorax, persisting after a few days of conservative treatment, however, early re-operation and ligation of the thoracic duct, seems to be advisable.

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