Study objectives: To examine the incidence and clinical significance of prolonged air leak (PAL) in patients undergoing radical upper lobectomy and to determine potential risk factors for PAL in this group of patients.
Design: Retrospective review of a prospective database.
Setting: Experience of one thoracic surgeon at a tertiary care cancer center.
Patients: One hundred consecutive patients undergoing right upper lobectomy and mediastinal lymph node dissection for non-small cell lung cancer over an 11-year period.
Measurements: PAL was defined as an air leak lasting >7 days. Preoperative, intraoperative, and postoperative clinical data were collected and analyzed to determine the factors associated with PAL.
Results: PAL was the most prevalent postoperative complication, comprising 25.5% of all complications seen, and lasting an average of 12.1±5.3 days. In 21 of the 26 patients with PAL, this complication was the only morbidity identified. There was no statistically significant difference in patient age, gender, preoperative FEV1 and diffusion of carbon monoxide, exposure to neoadjuvant chemotherapy, status of pulmonary fissures, or pathologic stage between the PAL group vs the remaining 74 patients without this complication. A significantly greater proportion of patients with PAL had FEV1/FVC ratio <50% (6/26 vs 5/74; p=0.02). Patients with PAL had significantly longer median length of hospital stay (11 vs 7 days; p=0.0001). Moreover, PAL was the single most common reason for an extended length of hospitalization (21/58, 36% of all causes).
Conclusion: PAL is an alarmingly common postoperative complication and is the most frequent cause of an extended length of hospital stay in patients undergoing radical upper lobectomy. Severe obstructive pulmonary disease predisposes patients to the development of this complication.