OBJECTIVES The recurrent laryngeal nerve lymph node is one of the most common metastatic sites in oesophageal cancer, and dissection of this lymph node is considered beneficial. Although the risk of complications from this procedure, such as recurrent laryngeal nerve palsy, is well known, few reports have detailed those risks in a large number of cases. Our study examined the risks of recurrent laryngeal nerve lymph node dissection, with a special focus on recurrent laryngeal nerve palsy. METHODS Retrospectively collected data from 661 patients, who underwent transthoracic oesophagectomy for oesophageal cancer, were analysed. RESULTS Recurrent laryngeal nerve palsy occurred in 36% of the patients. Among these patients, except those in whom recurrent laryngeal nerve was intentionally excised due to metastatic lymph node, permanent palsy was detected in 12%. Bilateral recurrent laryngeal nerve lymph node dissection, cervical anastomosis and upper oesophageal cancer were independent risk factors for recurrent laryngeal nerve palsy. Although recurrent laryngeal nerve palsy was a risk factor for aspiration, tracheostomy and postoperative pneumonia, it did not directly correlate with death caused by pneumonia. Among postoperative complications, only recurrent laryngeal nerve palsy correlated with bilateral recurrent laryngeal nerve lymph node dissection. CONCLUSIONS Recurrent laryngeal nerve palsy is a complication that should be avoided but does not seem to be severe enough to affect patient survival after surgery. Although bilateral recurrent laryngeal nerve lymph node dissection can induce recurrent laryngeal nerve palsy in patients who undergo transthoracic oesophagectomy, this procedure did not correlate with aspiration and pneumonia.
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