Lung Cancer Found Unresectable at Thoracotomy: Reappraisal of an Old Problem

Michaelson, Robert; Shaughnessey, Elizabeth
November 1999
American Surgeon;Nov1999, Vol. 65 Issue 11, p1023
Academic Journal
We review our experience with unresectable non-small cell lung cancer, after adoption of a more aggressive surgical approach, including mediastinal lymph node dissection. Cases with enlarged mediastinal lymph nodes (MLNs, cN[sub 2]) that were predicted to be resectable were included. Our objective was to identify preoperative findings to prevent unnecessary thoracotomy. In 1988-1997, 192 patients had thoracotomy for non-small cell lung cancer. Fifteen cases (7.7%) were found unresectable at thoracotomy. CT scans demonstrated enlarged MLNs in 7 of 15 and enlarged hilar lymph nodes in 6 of 15 cases. The tumor abutted the hilum in 5 of 15, chest wall in 2 of 15, and mediastinal structures in 7 of 15 cases. Atelectasis was seen in 3 of 15 cases. During the same period, 63 patients with stage III disease, including 39 patients with enlarged MLNs, were resected. The unresectability rate for cN[sub 2] patients was 15.2 per cent. Five (33%) patients were physiologically unable to tolerate the required pneumonectomy [forced expiratory volume in 1 second, 1.65 liters (range, 1.15-2.07)]. There were three (20%) esophageal invasions, two (13.3%) mediastinal invasions, two (13.3%) aortic invasions, two (13.3%) metastases to the diaphragm, and one (6.6%) invasion of proximal pulmonary artery. Median survival was 4 months. Two-year actuarial survival was 8 per cent. We conclude that careful palpation and dissection were required to establish unresectability. Preliminary thoracoscopy would have prevented thoracotomy in two cases (13.3%) of diaphragmatic metastases but would not reliably establish unresectable invasion of mediastinal structures.


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