Laparotomy for acute complications of gastrointestinal metastases from lung cancer: is it a worthwhile or futile effort?

Surg Today. 2007;37(5):370-4. doi: 10.1007/s00595-006-3419-y. Epub 2007 Apr 30.


Purpose: Complications of gastrointestinal tract (GIT) metastases from lung cancer are rare and the optimal management remains controversial. Whereas some authors advocate a nonoperative policy due to the poor prognosis, others recommend aggressive surgery as it offers effective palliation. The aim of this study is to present our experience with nine patients who underwent a laparotomy for complications of GIT metastases and to determine their outcome.

Methods: Between 1995 and 2005, nine patients who underwent a laparotomy for complications of pathologically proven GIT metastases secondary to lung cancer were retrospectively reviewed.

Results: All patients were male with a median age of 63 years (range, 40-70 years) at initial presentation. The sites of symptomatic GIT metastases include the ileum (n = 3), jejunum (n = 3), cecum (n = 1), duodenum (n = 2) and stomach (n = 2) and the patients presented with obstruction (n = 2), hemorrhage (n = 3), intussusception (n = 3) and perforation (n = 1). The median time of symptomatic GIT metastases from initial presentation was 2 months (range, 0-8 months) and the histological subtypes of the lung cancer were squamous cell carcinoma (n = 3), large cell carcinoma (n = 3), adenocarcinoma (n = 1), pleomorphic carcinoma (n = 1) and pleomorphic with adenocarcinoma (n = 1). All patients underwent an exploratory laparotomy and the definitive surgical procedure was dependent on the site and extent of disease. These included a small bowel resection with primary anastomosis (n = 5), a subtotal gastrectomy with an extended right hemicolectomy (n = 1), a gastrojejunostomy (n = 1), a right hemicolectomy (n = 1), and an ulcerectomy with under-running of ulcers (n = 1). Eight of the nine patients (89%) recovered from surgery and were then discharged from hospital at a median time of 9.5 days (range, 6-24 days). All these eight patients survived for more than 30 days and the median survival was 6 months (range, 2-13 months). Four of the 8 patients (50%) lived for more than 6 months and all eight patients died of advanced metastatic lung cancer with multiple sites of metastases at the time of death.

Conclusion: Gastrointestinal tract metastases should always be considered in the differential diagnosis of lung cancer patients presenting with an acute abdomen. Aggressive surgical treatment is worthwhile in a selected group of patients as it provides effective palliation.

MeSH terms

  • Abdomen, Acute / etiology
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Carcinoma, Large Cell / complications*
  • Carcinoma, Large Cell / secondary*
  • Carcinoma, Squamous Cell / complications*
  • Carcinoma, Squamous Cell / secondary*
  • Gastrointestinal Neoplasms / complications*
  • Gastrointestinal Neoplasms / secondary*
  • Humans
  • Laparotomy
  • Lung Neoplasms / pathology*
  • Male
  • Medical Futility
  • Middle Aged
  • Retrospective Studies