Aim: To evaluate the risk of esophagectomy for carcinoma of the esophagus in the elderly (70 years or more) compared with younger patients (< 70 years) and to determine whether the short-term outcomes of esophagectomy in the elderly have improved in recent years.
Methods: Preoperative risks, postoperative morbidity and mortality in 60 elderly patients (> or = 70 years) with esophagectomy for carcinoma of the esophagus were compared with the findings in 1782 younger patients (< 70 years) with esophagectomy between January 1990 and December 2004. Changes in perioperative outcome and short-time survival in elderly patients between 1990 to 1997 and 1998 to 2004 were separately analyzed.
Results: Preoperatively, there were significantly more patients with hypertension, pulmonary dysfunction, cardiac disease, and diabetes mellitus in the elderly patients as compared with the younger patients. No significant difference was found regarding the operation time, blood loss, organs in reconstruction and anastomotic site between the two groups, but elderly patients were more often to receive blood transfusion than younger patients. Significantly more transhiatal and fewer transthoracic esophagectomies were performed in the elderly patients as compared with the younger patients. Resection was considered curative in 71.66% (43/60) elderly and 64.92% (1157/1782) younger patients, which was not statistically significant (P>0.05). There were no significant differences in the prevalence of surgical complications between the two groups. Postoperative cardiopulmonary medical complications were encountered more frequently in elderly patients. The hospital mortality rate was 3.3% (2/60) for elderly patients and 1.1% (19/1 782) for younger patients without a significant difference. When the study period was divided into a former (1990 to 1997) and a recent (1997 to 2004) period, operation time, blood loss, and percentage of patients receiving blood transfusion of the elderly patients significantly improved from the former period to the recent period. The hospital mortality rate of the elderly patients dropped from the former period (5.9%) to the recent period (2.3%), but it was not statistically significant.
Conclusion: Preoperative medical risk factors and postoperative cardiopulmonary complications after esophagectomy are more common in the elderly, but operative mortality is comparable to that of younger patients. These encouraging results and improvements in postoperative mortality and morbidity of the elderly patients in recent period are attributed to better surgical techniques and more intensive perioperative care in the elderly.