Thoracotomy and decortication: impact of culture-positive empyema on the outcome of surgery

Eur J Cardiothorac Surg. 2014 Nov;46(5):901-6. doi: 10.1093/ejcts/ezu104. Epub 2014 Mar 14.


Objectives: This study aimed to assess the efficacy of thoracotomy and decortication (T/D) in achieving lung re-expansion in patients with Stage III empyema and assess the impact of culture-positive empyema on the outcome of decortication.

Methods: This is a retrospective observational study of consecutive patients treated with T/D over a 6-year period.

Results: A total of 107 consecutive patients were identified. The median age was 55 (range 16-86) years; of which, 86% were male. The median length of hospital stay was 9 (range 2-45) days. Full lung re-expansion was achieved in 86% of cases. There were no postoperative deaths. Pleural cultures were positive in 56 (52%) cases. Patients with culture-positive empyema had a longer duration of pleural drainage (median of 11 days, range 3-112 versus median of 5 days, range 3-29 days for negative culture; P = 0.0004), longer length of hospital stay (median of 11 days, range 4-45 versus median of 7 days, range 2-34 days; P = 0.0002) and more complications (P = 0.0008), respectively. There was no statistically significant difference in the outcome of surgery, i.e. lung re-expansion versus trapped lung (P = 0.08) between the two groups.

Conclusions: T/D is safe and achieved lung re-expansion in the majority of patients. Culture-positive empyema was associated with worse outcomes.

Keywords: Bacterial culture; Stage III empyema; Thoracotomy and decortication.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Bacteria / isolation & purification
  • Empyema, Pleural / microbiology*
  • Empyema, Pleural / surgery*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Pleura / microbiology
  • Pleura / surgery
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Thoracotomy / methods*
  • Treatment Outcome
  • Young Adult