Background: Nd: YAG laser therapy has been shown to be highly effective in the palliation of dysphagia due to inoperable esophageal malignancy. However, the duration of response and the degree of palliation present at death have not been adequately addressed.
Methods: Seventy consecutive patients with inoperable malignant dysphagia (mean age, 70 years; 48 men, 22 women) underwent palliative laser therapy. Dysphagia was assessed on a 5-point scale (0, normal; 4, complete dysphagia) before and after laser therapy and within 2 weeks of death.
Results: Ninety-six percent of patients were palliated initially (70% successful, 26% partial). Mean swallowing score improved from 2.3 to 1.1 (p < 0.001) with a mean of 1.9 initial treatment sessions. Swallowing score remained improved in the last two weeks of life at a mean of 1.7 (p < 0.001). Seventy-three percent of patients were palliated at death (36% successful, 37% partial); median survival was six months. The mean total number of laser sessions was 3.4, with a mean time interval between laser sessions of 27.2 days. Complications included one perforation (1.4%) resulting in death.
Conclusion: Endoscopic laser therapy provides safe and effective initial palliation of inoperable malignant dysphagia. In the majority of patients the palliation is maintained until death.