Medical Moment: A new technique for esophogeal cancer surgery

Published: Jan. 31, 2023 at 6:11 PM EST
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(WNDU) - Esophageal cancer is cancer that affects the long tube that runs from the throat to the stomach.

Traditionally, treatment involves surgery.

But afterward, there’s a risk of leaking that could lead to infection. Now, surgeons at Mount Sinai in New York have made a new discovery that could help prevent those infections.

Lour Martinez collects coins, clocks, and other knick knacks. He loves things that have a long history.

In 2018, Martinez’s health took a turn, he was working nights and had a sudden, serious scare.

“I couldn’t swallow my food,” Martinez recalled. “I couldn’t swallow water, juice, nothing. Everything laid right there, and I panicked.”

After years of struggling with heartburn, doctors diagnosed Martinez with esophageal cancer.

“The biggest treatment with esophageal is to get it out,” explained Raja Flores, MD, chief of thoracic surgery at Mount Sinai.

But patients can have complications at the site where surgeons reconnect the esophagus and stomach.

“And that needs to heal,” Flores said. “And when that doesn’t heal, the contents leak out. A leak can be out of control where the patient is sick. Sepsis can potentially lead to death.”

Dr. Flores and his colleagues have revised the procedure in a way that maximizes good blood flow to the area.

“We figured out that you can do the operation without removing, without cutting that right gastric artery,” Dr. Flores said. “And it’s not just the artery, but it’s the artery, the vein. You wanna make sure you keep everything intact.”

The revised surgery lowers the complication rate from 25 percent of the patients to just under two percent.

At first, Martinez was afraid to have surgery, but Dr. Flores convinced him it would be life-saving. Now that he’s recovered, Martinez says unlike the antiques he collects, these days, he feels brand new.

Dr. Flores says the new technique also decreases surgical time from seven hours to just two-and-a-half!