Hypothesis Controversy exists over the need for prolonged nasogastric decompression after esophagectomy. We hypothesized that early removal of the nasogastric tube would not adversely affect major pulmonary complications and anastomotic leak rates.
Design Single-center, parallel-group, open-label, randomized (1:1) trial.
Setting A tertiary referral cancer center with high esophagectomy volume.
Patients One hundred fifty patients undergoing esophagectomy with gastric tube reconstruction.
Interventions Either conventional nasogastric decompression for 6 to 10 days (75 patients) or early removal (48 hours) of nasogastric tube (75 patients) with stratification for pyloric drainage and anastomotic technique.
Main Outcome Measures The primary (composite) end point was the occurrence of major pulmonary complications and anastomotic leaks. Secondary end points were the need for nasogastric tube reinsertion and patient discomfort scores. Analysis was performed on an intent-to-treat basis.
Results No significant differences were seen in the occurrence of the composite primary end point of major pulmonary and anastomotic complications between the delayed (14 of 75 patients [18.7%]) and early (16 of 75 patients [21.3%]) removal groups, respectively (P = .84). Nasogastric tube reinsertion was required more often (23 of 75 patients [30.7%] vs 7 of 75 patients [9.3%]) in the early group (P = .001). Mean patient discomfort scores were significantly higher in the delayed (+1.3; 95% CI, 0.4-2.2; P = .006) than in the early removal group. Significantly more patients in the delayed removal group (26 of 75 patients [34.7%] vs 10 of 75 patients [13.3%] in the early removal group; P = .002) identified the nasogastric tube as the tube causing the most discomfort.
Conclusions Early removal of nasogastric tubes does not increase pulmonary or anastomotic complications after esophagectomy. Patient discomfort can be significantly reduced by early removal of the nasogastric tube.
Trial Registration Clinical Trials Registry of India Identifier: CTRI/2010/091/003023