The surgical treatment of emphysema. The Brompton approach

Chest Surg Clin N Am. 1995 Nov;5(4):777-96.


The vast majority of patients suffering with emphysema cannot be helped by surgery. A fortunate minority, consisting of specific subsets of patients, can benefit, but to do so the surgeon must have a flexible approach and select the optimal procedure for each patient. There is no one operation that is ideal in all circumstances. A major exploratory thoracotomy remains the approach of choice in specific situations (1) when dealing with the rare patient who has a congenital air cyst in the context of otherwise normal lungs. Local excision usually is possible but lobectomy may be necessary; (2) when dealing with an infected bulla in which the situation can only be ascertained at operation, where adhesions may cause difficulty and drainage may prove inappropriate, and lung resection is necessitated; and (3) when operating for a pneumothorax in which the situation can only be assessed at operation, and control of air leak is mandatory by ligation, bullectomy, or intracavitary drainage. The future role of video-assisted operations in this context must await the longer follow-up of larger series. In the elective management of patients with emphysema, those with a dominant bulla we continue to treat by intracavitary drainage. The Brompton technique offers a simple, safe, and effective therapeutic option in carefully selected patients. We believe the advantages to be threefold. Firstly, the use of CT scanning, important in patient selection, allows one to plan the incision so that a minithoracotomy can be performed, reducing the morbidity and mortality formerly associated with thoracotomy in patients with poor respiratory reserve. Secondly, the approach obviates the need to resect adjacent lung tissue, which in a generalized and progressive disease may be physiologically of disproportionate importance. Finally, pleurodesis allows any future recurrent bullae to be intubated and drained percutaneously under local anesthetic with minimal risk of pneumothorax. In those patients who have generalized emphysema without significant bullae, the role of volume-reduction surgery is being investigated. We await longer-term follow-up but fear that with wider application this major operation will accumulate significant mortality. Transplantation remains an option that must be limited to the youngest patients and those who are close to the terminal phase of their illness.

MeSH terms

  • Drainage / methods
  • Humans
  • Lung / diagnostic imaging
  • Lung / surgery
  • Methods
  • Pulmonary Emphysema / diagnostic imaging
  • Pulmonary Emphysema / surgery*
  • Radiography