This article describes our experience with penetrating pharyngoesophageal injuries (PEI) in the light of a selective conservative approach, and has the objective to define criteria for nonoperative management (NOM).METHODS
This retrospective single-center review of patients with penetrating neck injury treated for confirmed PEI over a 6-year period aimed to test our proposed hypothesis that NOM is safe for hemodynamically stable patients with PEI, who have no competing indications for exploration, have no established sepsis, and who have a water-soluble contrast swallow either showing no- or a contained extravasation.RESULTS
Eighty-six (9%) patients with PEI (oropharynx, 17; hypopharynx, 40; esophagus, 29) of 948 patients with penetrating neck injury were included. Of the cohort 38 (44%) underwent NOM (oropharynx, 15 [88%]; hypopharynx, 18 [45%]; esophagus, 5 [17%]), and 48 (56%) were managed operatively. The median length of stay was 12 days (interquartile range, 19–8). Fifteen (17%) had a persistent leak and six (7%) mediastinitis. Five (6%) patients died but only one (1%) had isolated PEI. Retrospectively, 27 patients fulfilled our proposed criteria for NOM of which 23 had been treated actively by NOM (oropharynx, 8; hypopharynx, 12; esophagus, 3). For these patients, the length of stay was 10.0 days (interquartile range, 13–6), and none developed deep wound sepsis, mediastinitis, persistent leaks, or died. Of the remaining patients treated by NOM without fulfilling the proposed criteria, two were palliated (esophagus) and 13 were managed actively (oropharynx, 7; hypopharynx, 6). Only four of these patients (oropharynx, 1; hypopharynx, 3) were assessed with water-soluble contrast swallow, which showed noncontained extravasation, and three complicated with persistent leaks.CONCLUSION
Nonoperative management of PEI is safe for a carefully selected subgroup of patients. However, most injuries to the caudal part of the cervical digestive tract mandate urgent exploration.LEVEL OF EVIDENCE
Clinical Management Study, Level V evidence.