BACKGROUND: The treatment and prognosis of non-small cell lung cancer, and assessment of the results of treatment, depend on accurate perioperative staging. The extent to which this is carried out in the United Kingdom is unknown. METHODS: A postal questionnaire survey was undertaken in 1990 to determine the perioperative staging practices of cardiothoracic surgeons in the United Kingdom. RESULTS: Replies from 77 surgeons, who between them performed about 4833 pulmonary resections a year for lung cancer, were analysed. Forty four per cent of surgeons, operating on 43% of the patients, do not perform computed tomography of the thorax or mediastinal exploration before surgery. They may therefore embark on a thoracotomy for stage III disease. At thoracotomy 45% of surgeons, operating on 40% of patients, do not sample macroscopically normal lymph nodes. They may therefore understage cases as N0/N1 when there is at least microscopic disease in mediastinal lymph nodes. CONCLUSIONS: The staging of lung cancer in the United Kingdom in 1990 appears in many instances to be inadequate. There should be a more organised approach to perioperative staging so that prognosis may be assessed and comparisons between groups of patients can be made.
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