Background: We sought to determine if median sternotomy (MS) is an equivalent incision to thoracotomy (TH) in the treatment of primary pulmonary carcinoma.
Methods: We followed 801 patients undergoing 815 operations for primary lung carcinoma in a computer registry; 447 had MS, 368 had TH.
Results: Both groups were similar in preoperative risk assessment. Complete staging lymph node dissections were performed in 42% of MS patients and 17% of TH patients. Operative mortality (3.8% for MS, 3.3% for TH) and postoperative complications were similar. MS patients had a shorter postoperative hospital stay (7.5 days vs. 8.2 days). One hundred thirty-nine underwent pneumonectomy. Operative mortality was 12.5% for MS and 10.4% for TS (p = NS). Five hundred eighty-one underwent lobectomy with an operative mortality of 2.1% for MS and 2.0% for TH. Mean length of stay for MS lobectomy was 7.5 days compared with 8.5 days for TH (p = 0.06). Follow-up was 89% through 1998, comprising 1,339 MS and 1,463 TH patient-years. Survival for stage I at 5 and 10 years, respectively, was 51% and 34% for MS vs 54% and 32% for TH (p = NS). Survival for other stages was also similar.
Conclusions: Median sternotomy provides more complete staging, shorter postoperative hospitalization, and better patient acceptance with equivalent operative and long-term survival when compared with thoracotomy. Concerns regarding increased wound infections in MS patients appear unfounded.