JOURNAL ARTICLE
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A 2-wk conservative treatment regimen preceding thoracic duct ligation is effective and safe for treating post-esophagectomy chylothorax.

BACKGROUND: Chylothorax is a pathologic condition defined by an accumulation of lymphatic fluid, the chyle, in the thorax. Postoperative chylothorax is a potentially lethal complication, with a reported mortality rate of 15.4%-25%.

PATIENTS AND METHODS: Esophageal cancer patients hospitalized for elective radical esophagectomy by thoracotomy (n = 10,574) were consecutively enrolled between January 1996 and December 2011. Patients (n = 306) who experienced post-esophagectomy chylothorax were assigned to a 48-h (group A, n = 186) or to a 2-wk (group B, n = 120) conservative treatment regimen. For patients with a daily chylothorax output >1000 mL, thoracic duct ligation (TDL) was performed by thoracotomy. Measured outcomes included frequency of TDL, overall and treatment-specific morbidity and mortality rates, and the rate of chylothorax recurrence.

RESULTS: A total of 171 patients (171 of 306 [55.9%]) underwent TDL. A larger proportion of patients in group A required TDL compared with group B (72.6% versus 30.0%, P < 0.001). Group A had a significantly higher rate of overall morbidity compared with group B (31.7% versus 19.2%, P = 0.02). Moreover, the overall mortality rate was significantly higher in group A (14.0% versus 4.2%, P = 0.006). Chylothorax recurred in nine patients (9 of 306 [2.9%]), and there was no difference between the two groups (3.2% versus 2.5%, P = 1.000).

CONCLUSIONS: The 2-wk regimen reduced the requirement for TDL and the overall morbidity and mortality rates compared with the 48-h regimen. Importantly, this regimen does not increase the risk of chylothorax recurrence.

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