Time to surgery in thoracic cancers and prioritization during COVID-19: a systematic review

J Thorac Dis. 2020 Nov;12(11):6640-6654. doi: 10.21037/jtd-20-2400.


Background: Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) has overwhelmed hospital resources worldwide, requiring widespread cancellation of non-emergency operations, including lung and esophageal cancer operations. In the United States, while hospitals begin to increase surgical volume and tackle the backlog of cases, the specter of a "second wave," with a potential vaccine months to years away, highlights the ongoing need to triage cases based upon the risk of surgical delay. We synthesize the available literature on time to surgery and its impact on outcomes along with a critical appraisal of the released triage guidelines in the United States.

Methods: We performed a systematic literature review using PubMed according to preferred reporting items for systematic reviews and meta-analyses guidelines evaluating relevant literature from the past 15 years.

Results: Out of 679 screened abstracts, 12 studies investigating time to surgery in lung cancer were included. In stage I-II lung cancer, delayed resection beyond 6 to 8 weeks is consistently associated with lower survival. No identified evidence justifies a 2 cm cutoff for immediate versus delayed surgery. For stage IIIa lung cancer, time to surgery greater than 6 weeks after neoadjuvant therapy is similarly associated with worse survival. For esophageal cancer, 254 abstracts were screened and 23 studies were included. Minimal literature addresses primary esophagectomy, but time to surgery over 8 weeks is associated with lower survival. In the neoadjuvant setting, longer time to surgery is associated with increased pathologic complete response, but also decreased survival. The optimal window for esophagectomy following neoadjuvant therapy is 6 to 8 weeks.

Conclusions: In the setting of the COVID-19 pandemic, timely resection of lung and esophageal cancer should be prioritized whenever possible based upon local resources and disease-burden.

Keywords: Time to surgery; cancer outcomes; esophageal cancer; lung cancer; surgical delay.