Chylothorax is an uncommon complication of oesophagectomy. In a review of 537 oesophageal resections there were 11 cases of chylothorax, an incidence of 2.0 per cent. There was no correlation with site, size, penetration, lymph node status, length or type of tumour but there was a significant correlation between chylothorax and the type of operative procedure carried out. The incidence in 95 transhiatal resections was 10.5 per cent. The incidence following 442 transthoracic procedures was 0.2 per cent (P less than 0.001) with one chylous fistula occurring after a three-stage oesophagectomy. Initial management was conservative with chest drainage and total parenteral nutrition. Thoracotomy and duct ligation was subsequently carried out in three patients and was successful in two. The third patient died. Conservative management alone was successful in four out of eight patients, with closure of the fistula at a median of 35 days (range 14-42 days). Four patients treated conservatively died. Transhiatal oesophagectomy greatly increases the risk of chylothorax, a condition that carries a high mortality rate (46 per cent in this series) whether managed conservatively or by surgical intervention.