Background: Rapid palliation of malignant dysphagia is usually possible with endoscopic implantation of a plastic prosthesis, but this device has a high rate of complications. Recently, expandable metal stents, a new class of endoprosthesis, have become available and may reduce complication rates.
Methods: Thirty nine patients affected by esophageal thoracic cancer were randomly assigned to treatment with either a plastic stent (20 patients) or expandable metal stent (19 patients). The degree of palliation (expressed as dysphagia score) and incidence of complications (short- and long-term) were compared in both treatment groups.
Results: Technical success, as a percentage of successful intubation, was similar in both treatment groups (90% vs 94.7%, p = NS) and dysphagia scores improved significantly and similarly in both treatment groups. Nevertheless, complications and mortality related to implantation were significantly less frequent with metal stents than with plastic prostheses (complications: 0% vs 21%, p < 0.001; mortality: 0% vs. 15.8%, p < 0.001). Late complications included obstruction by food in both treatment groups (four cases with plastic stents vs four cases with metal stents), tube migration only with plastic prostheses (two cases) and tumor ingrowth only with metal stents (two cases).
Conclusions: Expandable metal stents can be considered an effective and safer alternative to conventional plastic prostheses in the treatment of esophageal obstruction caused by inoperable cancer.