Accurate and consistent regional lymph node classification is an important element in the staging and multidisciplinary management of lung cancer. Regional lymph node definition sets—lymph node maps—have been created to standardize regional lymph node classification. In 2009, the International Association for the Study of Lung Cancer (IASLC) introduced a lymph node map to supersede all preexisting lymph node maps. Our aim was to study if and how lung cancer specialists apply the IASLC lymph node map when classifying thoracic lymph nodes encountered on CT scans during lung cancer staging.
From April 2013 through July 2013, invitations were distributed to all members of the Fleischner Society, Society of Thoracic Radiology, General Thoracic Surgical Club, and the American Association of Bronchology and Interventional Pulmonology to participate in an anonymous online image-based and text-based 20-question survey regarding lymph node classification for lung cancer staging on CT imaging.
Three hundred thirty-seven people responded (approximately 25% participation). Respondents consisted of self-reported thoracic radiologists (n = 158), thoracic surgeons (n = 102), and pulmonologists who perform endobronchial ultrasonography (n = 77). Half of the respondents (50%; 95% CI, 44%-55%) reported using the IASLC lymph node map in daily practice, with no significant differences between subspecialties. A disparity was observed between the IASLC definition sets and their interpretation and application on CT scans, in particular for lymph nodes near the thoracic inlet, anterior to the trachea, anterior to the tracheal bifurcation, near the ligamentum arteriosum, between the bronchus intermedius and esophagus, in the internal mammary space, and adjacent to the heart.
Use of older lymph node maps and inconsistencies in interpretation and application of definitions in the IASLC lymph node map may potentially lead to misclassification of stage and suboptimal management of lung cancer in some patients.