BACKGROUND Resection of pulmonary metastases may be followed by long term survival and now that it is an accepted method of treatment for patients with osteogenic sarcoma indicators of favourable prognosis are needed to aid the assessment of suitability for resection. This study compares the survival rates of patients who did and did not undergo resection of their pulmonary metastases and relates them to prognostic indicators. METHODS The study population was the 43 patients with osteosarcoma who developed pulmonary metastases out of the 111 patients with osteosarcoma treated by the Birmingham bone tumour treatment service during 1977-83. All patients who developed metastases confined to the lungs were considered for resection, thoracotomy being advised for all patients (provided that they were fit enough) who had metastases thought to be resectable even if they were multiple. RESULTS Of the 18 patients who did not have a thoracotomy, 15 died of disseminated disease after a mean interval of eight months; one patient died of cardiomyopathy and two are alive after 26 and eight months. Of the 25 patients who underwent thoracotomy in an attempt to resect metastases, three were found to have inoperable disease and died after a mean interval of 5.4 months from thoracotomy. Overall, after thoracotomy (repeated if necessary) there was a 20% survival at five years from the first thoracotomy. When survival was assessed with respect to the disease free interval and the number and bilaterality of the metastases no significant relationships were found. There was, however, a significant relation between survival and the position of metastases, patients with metastases confined to one lobe of the lung having a mean survival of 29.5 months, compared with 13.7 months in patients with disease in more than one lobe. CONCLUSION Thus patients who had a thoracotomy survived longer from the time of diagnosis of pulmonary metastasis than those not undergoing thoracotomy; metastases confined to one lobe predicted a better prognosis.
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