Surgery to remove part of the lung can be a safe and effective treatment option for people with early stage lung cancer, even those traditionally considered “high-risk,” a new study finds.
Previous research had suggested that high-risk patients are more likely to have complications or to die after lung surgery. People aged 60 and older, long-term smokers, and people who have other health problems are considered high-risk for partial lung removal surgery, the researchers said.
One in five patients with early stage non-small-cell lung cancer is deemed high-risk or ineligible for lung surgery, according to the study, which was published online Nov. 10 in The Annals of Thoracic Surgery.
But the new findings show these patients shouldn’t be denied surgery, because they may benefit from it, study leader Dr. Manu Sancheti, from Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta, said in a news release from the journal.
“Our results show that surgical resection is an acceptable treatment option with good results for patients with early stage lung cancer who have been identified as high-risk for surgery,” he said.
The study included 490 early stage lung cancer patients who underwent surgery at Emory between 2009 and 2013. Of those, 180 patients were classified as high-risk.
High-risk patients had slightly longer hospital stays than standard-risk patients — five days versus four days, the study showed. And the postoperative death risk was 2 percent versus 1 percent, respectively, the research revealed.
Three years after surgery, 59 percent of high-risk patients and 76 percent of standard-risk patients were still alive, the study found.
“Importantly, we found that about 20 percent of our patients had cancer that had spread to their lymph nodes, a finding that was unexpected based on the pre-operative imaging tests,” Sancheti said in the news release.
Once the spread of cancer was discovered, these patients were able to undergo chemotherapy, an important adjunct treatment for their cancer stage. But, without surgery, the spread of cancer to the lymph nodes wouldn’t have been discovered, Sancheti explained.
“High-risk patients have a new treatment avenue that previously may have been denied to them. A multidisciplinary team should review each case to determine the best treatment plan for individual lung cancer patients,” Sancheti said.
The American Cancer Society has more about lung cancer.