Objectives/hypothesis: To determine the incidence and risk factors of pharyngocutaneous fistula formation in patients undergoing either primary or salvage laryngectomies and evaluate the role of barium esophagram in these patients.
Study design: Retrospective cohort study.
Methods: Medical records of 259 patients who underwent total laryngectomy between 2003 and 2009 at our institution were reviewed. Risk factors for fistula formation were analyzed, including primary treatment modality, comorbidities, and operative details, which included use of a free flap for closure, concurrent neck dissections, margin status, and preoperative tracheostomy. The length of time until leak, postoperative swallow study results, and fistula management strategies were also assessed.
Results: Fifty-five patients developed a pharyngocutaneous fistula (overall incidence, 21%) in a median time of 12 days (range, 4-105 days). Twenty of these patients underwent laryngectomy as their initial treatment modality, and 35 had failed previous radiotherapy. Fistula formation was significantly higher in salvage surgery patients (P = .03), particularly those with hypothyroidism (P < .0002). A barium swallow performed at approximately 1 week after laryngectomy demonstrated a sensitivity of 26% with a specificity of 94%. Sixty-two percent of the fistulas healed with conservative measures only.
Conclusions: Our data confirmed that previous radiotherapy and hypothyroidism, particularly in salvage laryngectomy patients, are important significant predictors of postoperative pharyngocutaneous fistula. The use of a postoperative barium swallow in these patients may be useful but was not found to be highly sensitive in predicting who will develop a clinically evident leak and should be used with caution.
Copyright © 2012 The American Laryngological, Rhinological, and Otological Society, Inc.