OBJECTIVE: To analyze the outcome of surgical resection for patients with small cell lung cancer (SCLC). PATIENTS AND METHODS: We identified all patients who underwent thoracotomy for SCLC at our institution from January 1985 to July 2002. All patients were staged using the American Joint Committee on Cancer TNM system. RESULTS: The median age of the 77 patients (44 men and 33 women) was 65 years (range, 35-85 years). Operations performed included thoracotomy with biopsy of hilar mass in 10 patients, wedge excision in 30 (6 with talc pleurodesis), segmentectomy in 4, lobectomy in 23, bilobectemy in 3, and pneumonectomy in 2. Mediastinal lymphadenectomy was performed in 50 patients and lymph node sampling in 19. Postoperative therapy included chemotherapy alone in 20 patients, radiation therapy in 3, and combined chemotherapy and radiation therapy in 40. Median tumor diameter was 4 cm (range, 1.0-10.0 cm). Postsurgical tumor stage was IA in 7 patients, IB in 11, IIA in 8, IIB in 7, IIIA in 30, IIIB in 10, and IV in 4. A total of 19 patients (25%) had complications: atrial arrhythmia in 7 patients, pneumonia in 6, prolonged air leak in 3, and myocardial infarction, postoperative bleeding, and cerebrovascular accident in 1 each. Operative mortality was 3% (2/77). Follow-up ranged from 4 days to 170 months (median, 19 months). At last follow-up, 20 patients were alive. The estimated overall 5-year survival was 27% when excluding the 10 patients who underwent a biopsy without additional surgery. Five-year survival for stage I and II combined (n=33) was 38% compared with only 16% for stage III and IV combined (n=34) (P=.02). Overall median survival was 24 months; median survival for patients who underwent curative surgery was 25 months compared with 16 months for those who had a palliative procedure (P=.34). CONCLUSION: Pulmonary resection in patients with stage I or stage II SCLC is safe with low mortality and morbidity. Curative resection is associated with long-term survival in early stage SCLC in some patients and should be considered in selected patients.
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