Objective: The purpose of our study was to evaluate the effectiveness of nitinol stents for palliation of dysphagia due obstructing esophageal cancer, safety of stent placement, and long-term results.
Subjects and methods: Self-expanding uncoated nitinol stents were inserted either radiologically (14 patients) or endoscopically (12 patients) on an outpatient basis in 26 consecutive patients with dysphagia grade 3 or 4 caused by incurable malignant obstructions in the middle or distal third of the esophagus (n = 22) or at esophagojejunal anastomoses (n = 4). No esophagotracheal fistulas were seen in any patient. In 22 patients prior treatments had failed. Following insertion, the stent lumen was dilated to the maximum diameter. Finally, esophagography or esophagoscopy was done to confirm the position of the stent and patency of the esophageal lumen. Twenty-four hours after the procedure, esophageal function was investigated by a barium swallow. Patients were encouraged to ingest solid food thereafter. Improvement in dysphagia was evaluated 1 week after stent placement and during monthly interviews. Complications were defined as major (aspiration, bleeding, stent misplacement or dislocation, perforation) or minor (reflux esophagitis, chest pain, pharyngeal discomfort). Tumor ingrowth or overgrowth was considered a treatment failure. Twenty-three patients (88%) were followed until death: three patients (12%) were followed for a mean of 14 months.
Results: Exact positioning of the stent and dilation to its maximum diameter were technically feasible in all patients. No stents were placed in the stomach. Patency of the esophageal lumen was successfully restored in 25 patients. In one patient a broken strut of the stent after dilation caused a partial obstruction, which was detected endoscopically. Two patients had recurrent dysphagia due to tumor ingrowth or overgrowth, one after 1 month and the other after 3 months. In these patients an additional overlapping stent was successfully placed. No procedure-related mortalities or major complications occurred. The mean dysphagia grade of 3.5 was improved to a mean grade of 0.6 after stent placement. All patients could take liquids within the first 24 hr. Fifteen patients improved to dysphagia grade 0, seven patients to grade 1, and four patients to grade 2 within 1 week after the procedure. Twenty-three patients (88%) died during the follow-up period (mean survival, 5 months) as a result of their disease. Latest evaluation of the mean dysphagia grade was 0.7. Three patients (12%) are still alive (mean survival, 14 months) with a dysphagia grade 1 in one patient and grade 0 in two.
Conclusion: Implantation of nitinol stents proved to be an effective and safe method of palliating severe dysphagia in patients with obstructing esophageal cancer. The improvement in dysphagia was impressive and long lasting. Placement of the stents was feasible without major procedure-related complications.