What is an esophagectomy?

Esophagectomy is the main surgical treatment for esophageal cancer. During the operation, the surgeon removes all or part of the esophagus through an incision in the chest, abdomen and sometimes the neck. The esophagus is then reconstructed using part of another organ, usually the stomach or large intestine.

People are typically in the hospital for about one week. Esophagectomy is perhaps one of the toughest operations that people go through since complications can occur in at least one-third of people. Additionally, many people experience lifelong changes in their eating habits.

An esophagectomy, used to treat esophageal cancer, is a procedure that removes most of the esophagus. An esophagectomy is technically difficult, performed only by experienced thoracic surgeons. The surgeon first detaches the patient’s stomach from other intra-abdominal organs. The stomach is drawn up into the chest through the diaphragm, behind the heart. Much of the esophagus is removed and the stomach reshaped and reattached to the remaining upper esophagus.

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Dr. Daniel Labow, MD
Surgical Oncologist

An esophagectomy for cancer involves removing most of the esophagus and replacing it with the stomach with the goal of curing the patients of cancer and allowing them to eat. Minimally invasive surgery involves operating through small incisions with the use of specially designed instruments and cameras. The minimally invasive esophagectomy (MIE) procedure was developed in the past decade but is only performed at several specialized centers in the nation. The procedure involves laparoscopy and video-assisted thoracoscopic surgery (VATS) to remove the esophagus and replace it with the stomach. Early results of the technique suggest a shorter hospital stay and fewer complications when compared with an esophagectomy done through larger incisions.

Esophagectomy involves removing and replacing a portion of or the entire esophagus. The procedure is usually used as an intervention for cancer or Barrett's dysplasia, but is also sometimes employed to treat benign disease such as esophageal atresia, achalasia, or injury to the esophagus. The procedure should be performed by a specially trained thoracic or general surgeon who performs esophagectomy on a regular basis.

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