Background: There is still debate regarding the use of surgery in the management of non-small cell lung cancer patients with N2 disease. The primary aim of the present study was analysis of the results of initial operations in non-small cell lung cancer patients with single-level N2 disease.
Methods: Ninety-four patients with the disease who underwent initial surgery consisting of complete resection of the primary site plus systematic lymphadenectomy were examined. We also immunohistochemically examined lymphatic vessel density and vascular endothelial growth factor-C expression.
Results: The overall 5- and 10-year survival rates for the 94 patients were 27.1% and 12.1%, respectively, with a median survival of 22 months. When stratified by skipping status, the 5-year survival rates for the patients in skip-N2 and non-skip-N2 groups were 33.4% and 19.8%, respectively (p = 0.0189). Skip metastasis, T factor, subcarinal lymph node metastasis, and adjuvant chemotherapy were recognized as independent prognostic indicators. In both skip-N2 and non-skip-N2 groups, distant relapse was the dominant pattern of recurrence. Although the peritumoral lymphatic vessel density was associated with vascular endothelial growth factor-C expression in tumors, the lymphangiogenic profile appeared to be different between skip-N2 and non-skip-N2 tumors, suggesting different nodal metastatic process.
Conclusions: Lung cancer patients with single-level N2 disease are an oncologically heterogeneous cohort. Although further studies involving randomized comparisons are required, the poor outcomes found here indicate that the initial operation has yet to be validated for patients with this disease.