Background Surgery is the treatment of choice for early stage non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC). However, curative intent is commonly not achieved due to inaccurate clinical staging and disease recurrence.
Aim We aimed to determine the incidence of futile thoracotomies (FT) in patients with NSCLC following surgery with curative intent. In addition, we wished to identify prognostic factors that predicted FT.
Methods In this analytical retrospective cohort study, thoracotomy cases between October 2003 and September 2008 at a single institution were identified. Confirmed cases of primary NSCLC only were included. A thoracotomy was deemed futile if any one of the following criteria were met: pathologically confirmed N2, N3, or M1 disease, an exploratory thoracotomy, or a thoracotomy in a patient who developed recurrent disease or died within 1 year of surgery. When a PET scan was performed, the SUVmax of the primary tumour was reported by a radiologist blinded to the clinical information. Case notes and hospital systems were interrogated for evidence of recurrence and survival. Statistical analysis was performed with STATA version 10 for Windows.
Results We identified 171 consecutive patients with NSCLC who underwent lung resection with curative intent. 105 (61%) were male and mean age at the time of surgery was 66 years. 134 (78%) had lobectomy, 8 bi-lobectomy, 19 pneumonectomy and 10 sub-lobar resection (segmentectomy or wedge resection). Overall 46 (27%) underwent FT. Nine patients (5.2%) had clinically unsuspected N2 disease at pathological staging. An SUVmax of the primary tumour greater than 8 was associated with an increased risk of FT (RR 2.35 (p=0.03)) (Abstract P222 Table 1). The presence of lymphovascular invasion was also associated with a increased risk of FT (RR 1.71 (p=0.04)). Those with a primary tumour greater than or equal to 3 cm in size had a RR of 1.91 (p=0.02) of FT.
Conclusions Between 2003 and 2008, 27% of patients at our cardiothoracic centre for lung cancer underwent a futile thoracotomy. High SUVmax, the presence of lymphovascular invasion and tumour size ≥3 cm are predictors of FT. Future, prospective studies employing adjuvant chemotherapy in these patient groups are warranted.
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