Pharyngocutaneous fistula after total laryngectomy: A single-institution experience, 2001-2012

Eleni M. Benson, Richard M. Hirata, Carol B. Thompson, Patrick K. Ha, Carole Fakhry, John R. Saunders, Joseph A. Califano, Demetri Arnaoutakis, Marshall Levine, Mei Tang, Geoffrey Neuner, Barbara P. Messing, Ray G.F. Blanco

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Purpose The purpose of this study was to determine the incidence of and risk factors for pharyngocutaneous fistula in patients undergoing total laryngectomy at a single institution. Materials and methods The records of 59 patients undergoing primary or salvage total laryngectomy at our institution from 2001 to 2012 were retrospectively reviewed. Data collected included patient, tumor and treatment characteristics, and surgical technique. Risk factors were analyzed for association with pharyngocutaneous fistula formation. Results Twenty patients (34%) developed fistulas. Preoperative tracheostomy (OR 4.1; 95% CI 1.3-13 [p = 0.02]) and low postoperative hemoglobin (OR 9.1; 95% CI 1.1-78 [p = 0.04]) were associated with fistula development. Regarding surgical technique, primary sutured closure of the total laryngectomy defect had the lowest fistula rate (11%). In comparison, primary stapled closure and pectoralis onlay flap over primary closure had nonsignificantly increased fistula rates (43%, OR 6.0; 95% CI 1.0-37.3 [p = 0.06] and 25%, OR 2.7; 95% CI 0.4-23.9 [p = 0.38], respectively). Pectoralis flap incorporated into the suture line had a significantly increased fistula rate (50%, OR 7.1; 95% CI 1.4-46 [p = 0.02]). After stratification for salvage status, patient comorbidities were associated with fistula in non-salvage cases whereas disease-related characteristics were associated with fistula in salvage cases. Fistula development was associated with increased length of hospital stay (p < 0.001) and increased time before oral diet initiation (p < 0.001). Conclusions Pharyngocutaneous fistula is a common complication of total laryngectomy. Preoperative tracheostomy, postoperative hemoglobin, and surgical technique are important in determining the risk of fistula.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)24-31
Number of pages8
JournalAmerican Journal of Otolaryngology - Head and Neck Medicine and Surgery
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 2015

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Otorhinolaryngology

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