Objective: Since the introduction of clarithromycin, it has been assumed that pulmonary Mycobacterium avium complex (MAC) disease can be treated with medication alone. This study examines whether surgery can still play an important role in the management of MAC lung disease in the current era.
Methods: Between April 1993 and January 2001, 21 patients (11 men and 10 women) underwent a pulmonary resection for MAC infection. The median age of the patients was 56 years (range: 27-67 years). None of the patients were immunocompromised. Regimens employing clarithromycin were initiated preoperatively in all patients. The indications for surgery were failure of drug therapy in 19 patients and discontinuation of chemotherapy because of drug toxicity in two patients. The pulmonary resections (19 right lung, 2 left lung) performed included lobectomy in 16 patients, pneumonectomy in three, bilobectomy in one, and lobectomy plus segmentectomy in one.
Results: All of the patients survived the surgery. Six major postoperative complications occurred in six patients (28.6%) and these included two bronchopleural fistulas after right pneumonectomy, two space problems, one prolonged air leak, and one case of interstitial pneumonia. All postoperative complications were manageable, and four of these were treated surgically. All patients had sputum-negative status after their operation. Relapse occurred in two patients (9.5%) at six months and two years postoperative, respectively. The first patient, who originally had a right upper lobectomy, underwent a left upper lobectomy during the follow-up period, attaining sputum conversion. The second patient underwent a right pneumonectomy and then died of respiratory failure four years postoperatively. This one late death was the only fatality.
Conclusions: Although it is associated with relatively high morbidity, surgery provides a high sputum conversion rate for patients whose MAC disease responds poorly to drug therapy. Even in the present clarithromycin era, pulmonary resection remains the treatment of choice when MAC lung disease has not been successfully eradicated by drug treatment alone.