Doctors invent safer method for esophageal cancer surgery

Reporter: Amy Oshier Writer: Joey Pellegrino
Published: Updated:

After surgery for esophageal cancer, there is a risk of the esophagus leaking, which could cause a dangerous or even deadly infection. But surgeons at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York have pioneered a modification that significantly cuts the risk.

Lou Martinez collects coins, clocks and other knickknacks. He loves things that have a long history. But in 2018, Martinez’s health took a turn for the worse. He was working nights and had a sudden, serious scare.

“I couldn’t swallow my food,” Martinz said. “I couldn’t swallow water, juice, nothing. Everything laid right there, and I panicked.”

After years of struggling with heartburn, doctors diagnosed Martinez with esophageal cancer. But patients can have complications at the site where surgeons reconnect the esophagus and stomach.

“The biggest treatment with esophageal is to get it out,” said Dr. Raja Flores, chief of thoracic surgery at Mount Sinai. “And that needs to heal. And when that doesn’t heal, the contents leak out. A leak can be out of control, where the patient is sick… sepsis can potentially lead to death.”

Flores and his colleagues have revised the procedure in a way that maximizes good blood flow to the area.

“We figured out that you can do the operation without removing, without cutting that right gastric artery,” Flores said. “And it’s not just the artery, but it’s the vein. You want to make sure you keep everything intact.”

The revised surgery lowers the complication rate from 25% of the patients to just under 2%.

At first, Martinez was afraid to have surgery, but Flores convinced him it would be life-saving. Now that he’s recovered, Martinez says, unlike the antiques he collects, he now feels brand new.

Flores says the new technique also decreases the surgical time from seven hours to 2 1/2.
He says it’s important for patients to know that heartburn and acid reflux, fueled by an increase in obesity, can be life-threatening if not addressed.

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