Chyle leak is an unwelcome complication of esophagectomy that is associated with a high mortality. The diagnosis of this condition may be difficult or delayed and requires a high index of suspicion. Management varies from conservative treatment with drainage, intravenous nutrition, treatment and prevention of septic complications, to re-operation, either by thoracotomy or laparotomy to control the fistula. To reduce the mortality, early surgical intervention is advised and a minimally invasive approach has recently been reported in several cases. From June 2002 through August 2005 we have used video-assisted thoracoscopic surgery to diagnose and treat chyle fistulas from 6/129 (5%) patients who underwent esophagectomy for resectable carcinoma of the esophagus or high-grade dysplasia. The fistula was successfully controlled in 5/6 cases by direct thoracoscopic application of a suture, clips or fibrin glue. One patient required a laparotomy and ligation of the cysterna chyli after thoracoscopy failed to identify an intrathoracic source of the leak. An early minimally invasive approach can be safely and effectively applied to the diagnosis and management of post-esophagectomy chylous fistula in the majority of cases. Open surgery may be appropriate where minimally invasive approaches fail or where the availability of such skills is limited.
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