BACKGROUND: Patients who undergo surgery to the esophagus and lungs are in jeopardy of recurrent laryngeal nerve (RLN) damage during the procedure. This study was designed to investigate the feasibility of intraoperative monitoring of the RLN for single-lung ventilation esophagus and lung surgery.
METHODS: Twelve consecutive patients booked for esophagus or lung surgery were included in this prospective, observational study. Six patients underwent transthoracic esophagectomy for carcinoma of the esophagogastric junction or lower esophagus, five had a lobectomy, and one underwent a pneumonectomy for lung carcinoma. Intraoperative, noninvasive RLN identification and monitoring was performed unilaterally (n = 8) or bilaterally (n = 4) using a handheld stimulator and a laryngeal surface electrode. The correct functioning of the nerve monitoring system was tested directly at the vagus nerve. Diagnosis of postoperative RLN paralysis was performed using indirect laryngoscopy.
RESULTS: During the surgical procedures, we monitored a nerve signal in all 12 patients. In one patient with lower esophagus carcinoma, a nerve signal could be detected only on one side. Postoperative indirect laryngoscopy showed normal vocal cord movement in all patients.
CONCLUSIONS: Intraoperative RLN identification and monitoring during single-lung ventilation surgery is technically feasible, easy, and reliable. The introduction of standardized RLN monitoring during this type of surgery may reduce the incidence of permanent RLN paralysis.