Background: Although the effectiveness of epidural anesthesia on pain control after esophagectomy has been reported, the appropriate insertion level of the epidural catheter remains unclear for adequate postoperative pain control. We investigated the relationship between the epidural catheter insertion level and postoperative pain control after esophagectomy for esophageal cancer. Methods: We analyzed retrospectively 63 patients who underwent McKeown esophagectomy for esophageal cancer between October 2014 and November 2018. The epidural catheter was inserted at the T4–T10 level before general anesthesia induction, and epidural anesthesia was started during the operation. In the analysis, the epidural catheter insertion level was divided into three groups (over T6/T7, T7/T8, and under T8/T9) and determined. Postoperative pain was evaluated a numeric rating scale (NRS) for at least 7 postoperative days, and the first NRS after extubation was used to evaluate the impact of the epidural catheter insertion level on pain control. Results: Ten patients (15.9%) failed pain control. The χ2 test and a forward stepwise logistic regression analysis revealed that only the epidural catheter insertion level affected pain control (P < 0.05). The T7/T8 insertion level significantly decreased postoperative pain after esophagectomy. In the subgroup analysis, epidural catheter insertion under T8/T9 significantly increased postoperative pain after esophagectomy when thoracoscopy/laparoscopy was assisted. No significant differences were observed in the incidence of postoperative complications among the epidural catheter insertion levels. Conclusions: The T7/T8 epidural catheter insertion level contributed to postoperative pain relief and could lead to enhanced recovery after esophagectomy for esophageal cancer.
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