Background: Esophagectomy for esophageal cancer is associated with substantial operative morbidity and mortality. The effect of surgical experience on results of esophagectomy has received little attention in the medical literature.
Methods: A retrospective review of esophagectomies for cancer was done.
Results: Seventy-four patients underwent esophagectomy by 20 different surgeons. Three surgeons performed 6 or more esophagectomies per year ("frequent" surgeons), whereas the other 17 surgeons performed 5 or fewer esophagectomies per year ("occasional" surgeons). Forty-two patients were operated on by frequent surgeons. There were 3 (7%) anastomotic leaks and no deaths. In 32 patients operated on by occasional surgeons, there were 7 (22%) anastomotic leaks and 7 (22%) operative deaths. The anastomotic leak rates were not significantly different (P < .07), but frequent surgeons had a significantly lower operative mortality (P < .0014).
Conclusions: Esophagectomy for esophageal cancer should be performed by experienced esophageal surgeons with sufficient yearly volume of procedures to maintain competence.