What is the role of surgery in the treatment of non–small cell lung cancer (NSCLC)?

Updated: Jul 15, 2021
  • Author: Winston W Tan, MD, FACP; Chief Editor: Nagla Abdel Karim, MD, PhD  more...
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Surgical resection remains the mainstay of treatment for all patients with stage I and II NSCLC—that is, those patients with no evidence of mediastinal disease or invasion of local organs. Lobectomy is the procedure of choice. Outcomes are better when the procedure is performed by a surgeon with specialty training, or is done in a higher-volume center or in a teaching facility. [81]

A study patients who underwent planned resection after an unexpected finding of N2 disease at the time of thoracoscopy or thoracotomy found that proceeding with lobectomy did not appear to compromise outcomes if adjuvant chemotherapy with or without radiation therapy was administered following surgery. [82]

The role of surgery for stage III disease is controversial. (See Stage-Based Management.) Patients with completely resectable primary tumors (ie, T4 N0) have a much better prognosis than those with spread to ipsilateral mediastinal or subcarinal lymph nodes (ie, N2), signifying that spread beyond the primary tumor is associated with a poor prognosis. Patients with stage IIIB or IV tumors are almost never surgical candidates.

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