Risk of stent-related aortic erosion after endoscopic stent insertion for intrathoracic anastomotic leaks after esophagectomy

Michael Schweigert, Attila Dubecz, Rudolf J Stadlhuber, Herbert Muschweck, Hubert J Stein
Annals of Thoracic Surgery 2011, 92 (2): 513-8

BACKGROUND: Intrathoracic anastomotic leakage after esophagectomy is associated with high morbidity and mortality. Because of disappointing results after surgical reexploration endoscopic stent implantation was introduced as primary treatment option with improved outcome. Aortoesophageal fistula is a very rare complication and has thus far only anecdotally been reported after esophagectomy. The aim of this retrospective study was to investigate if endoscopic stent implantation increases the incidence of postoperative aortoesophageal fistula by reason of stent-related erosion of the thoracic aorta.

METHODS: Between January 2004 and October 2010, 213 patients underwent esophageal resection mainly for esophageal cancer. An intrathoracic esophageal anastomotic leak was endoscopically verified in 25 patients. Seventeen patients received endoscopic implantation of a self-expanding stent as primary treatment. In 8 patients a rethoracotomy was mandatory.

RESULTS: After successfully accomplished endoscopic stent placement, complete closure of the anastomotic leak was radiologically proven in all 17 patients. In 13 cases, definitive closure and healing of the leak was achieved and the stent could subsequently be removed. In 1 patient, because of early recurrence of very malignant small cell cancer, the stent remained in situ. Three patients developed an erosion of the thoracic aorta with subsequent massive hemorrhage. The mean time between stent insertion and occurrence of aortoesophageal fistula was 26 days. All 3 patients died of exsanguination with severe hypovolemic shock. Postmortem examination confirmed an aortoesophageal fistula in each case.

CONCLUSIONS: While endoscopic stent implantation seems to be effective in the control of intrathoracic anastomotic leakage, nevertheless the incidence of aortoesophageal fistula caused by stent-related aortic erosion exceeds the thus far reported numbers. Awareness of this life-threatening complication after stent insertion is therefore mandatory.

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