Background and Aims: The development of esophagorespiratory fistula (ERF) in esophageal cancer (EC) is a devastating complication, leading to poor survival rates and low quality of life. Goal of this study was to identify risk factors leading to fistula formation in esophageal cancer.
Methods: We identified 47 patients with malignant ERF formation in EC in a period of 10 years. Clinical characteristics were compared by univariable analysis to 47 randomly selected patients with EC, but without ERF. A case-control study was conducted for patients with squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) and ERF matching in a 1:2 fashion for primary tumor localization.
Results: Identifiable risk factors in EC patients were histology of SCC (P-value < 0.001), former or current smoking status (P = 0.002) and primary tumor localization in the proximal esophagus (P < 0.001). The "hot spot" for ERF formation was tumor growth 20-25cm distal to dental arch. An additional risk factor in SCC patients was age. Patients with ERF formation in SCC were younger than patients without ERF (median 63 vs. 67 years, P = 0.02). No difference in the rate of fistula formation was seen between esophagectomy and definitive chemoradiation, but the latter developed ERF earlier in the course of the disease (237 vs. 596.5 days, P = 0.01).
Conclusion: Patients with proximal SCC of the esophagus and a smoking history, as well as young patients with SCC should be closely monitored for ERF formation.


esophagorespiratory fistula, esophageal cancer, case-control, risk factors, smoking