Safety of Esophageal Cancer Surgery During the First Wave of the COVID-19 Pandemic in Europe: A Multicenter Study

Ann Surg Oncol. 2021 Sep;28(9):4805-4813. doi: 10.1245/s10434-021-09886-z. Epub 2021 Apr 8.


Background: Many hospitals postponed elective surgical care during the first wave of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic. Some centers continued elective surgery, including esophageal cancer surgery, with the use of preoperative screening methods; however, there is no evidence supporting the safety of this strategy as postoperative outcomes after esophageal cancer surgery during the COVID-19 pandemic have not yet been investigated.

Methods: This multicenter study in four European tertiary esophageal cancer referral centers included consecutive adult patients undergoing elective esophageal cancer surgery from a prospectively maintained database in a COVID-19 pandemic cohort (1 March 2020-31 May 2020) and a control cohort (1 October 2019-29 February 2020). The primary outcome was the rate of respiratory failure requiring mechanical ventilation.

Results: The COVID-19 cohort consisted of 139 patients, versus 168 patients in the control cohort. There was no difference in the rate of respiratory failure requiring mechanical ventilation (13.7% vs. 8.3%, p = 0.127) and number of pulmonary complications (32.4% vs. 29.9%, p = 0.646) between the COVID-19 cohort and the control cohort. Overall, postoperative morbidity and mortality rates were comparable between both cohorts. History taking and reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) were used as preoperative screening methods to detect a possible severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) infection in all centers. No patients were diagnosed with COVID-19 pre- or postoperatively.

Conclusion: Esophageal cancer surgery during the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic was not associated with an increase in pulmonary complications as no patients were diagnosed with COVID-19. Esophageal cancer surgery can be performed safely with the use of adequate preoperative SARS-CoV-2 screening methods.

Publication types

  • Multicenter Study

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • COVID-19*
  • Esophageal Neoplasms* / epidemiology
  • Esophageal Neoplasms* / surgery
  • Humans
  • Pandemics
  • Postoperative Complications / epidemiology
  • SARS-CoV-2