Alcohol withdrawal syndrome worsens cancer surgery outcomes

Author: Damian McNamara

Patients with head and neck cancers who develop alcohol withdrawal syndrome perioperatively experience significantly more complications after undergoing surgery, a large database analysis indicates.

The presence of withdrawal symptoms was associated with a 25% incidence of postoperative complications, compared with 14% among patients who abused alcohol and 7% among those without alcohol abuse, Dr. Dane J. Genther said at the Triological Society’s Combined Sections Meeting. The risk for wound complications was nearly double in this population (odds ratio, 1.9).

Dr. Genther, a resident in otolaryngologyhead and neck surgery at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, and his associates used ICD-9 codes in the Nationwide Inpatient Sample discharge database to identify more than 92,000 patients who underwent an ablative procedure for head and neck cancer in 2003-2008. The retrospective, cross-sectional study included patients with malignant oral cavity, laryngeal, hypopharyngeal, and oropharyngeal neoplasms.

In a multivariate analysis, alcohol withdrawal syndrome was significantly more likely for patients undergoing a major procedure (OR, 2.0) and was significantly associated with Medicare payer status and a need for additional health care following discharge, Dr. Genther said.

The researchers found no significant association between alcohol withdrawal syndrome and increased risk for postoperative infections or in-hospital mortality, but there was a significant increase in hospital stay and related costs associated with the syndrome.

Having a major procedure and experiencing alcohol withdrawal contributed approximately $15,000 per admission in 2011 U.S. dollars, Dr. Genther said.

The findings point to a need for alternatives to current alcohol withdrawal prevention therapies, Dr. Genther said. “Despite prophylaxis, which is our current treatment to attempt to stem the onset of alcohol withdrawal syndrome, complications do occur and they are no less severe or frequent than in the absence of prophylaxis.”

Abstinence from alcohol for at least 4 weeks is another strategy proposed to minimize risk of alcohol withdrawal syndrome for any at-risk surgical patient, said Dr. Genther. However, he added, “for many cancer patients, especially those with more advanced disease, waiting a prolonged period of time to possibly gain that benefit from abstinence is not necessarily a viable option.”

Another aim of the study was to assess factors contributing to alcohol abuse. Patients aged 40-64 years had the highest proportion of alcohol abuse, and this age range was a significant factor (OR, 2.37). Those who abused alcohol were more often male and more often underwent major procedures, Dr. Genther said at the meeting, which was jointly sponsored by the Triological Society and the American College of Surgeons. In addition, alcohol abuse was significantly associated with pneumonia and need for additional postdischarge health care.

Dr. Genther received a G. Slaughter Fitz-Hugh Resident Research Award for this study from the Triological Society. He reported having no financial disclosures.