Background: The aim of this study was to determine the risk of overall death in long-term survivors (> 5 years) after pneumonectomy for non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC), and to establish the optimal follow-up strategy for these patients.
Methods: We analyzed a single-center experience with 94 long-term survivors who underwent pneumonectomy (group A) for NSCLC between January 1992 and December 2000. Prospective tumor registry data were compared with data for 147 long-term survivors who underwent lobectomy (group B) during the same period.
Results: Clinical characteristics at the time of operation differed between the two groups with more squamous histology, larger tumor size, and more advanced stage in group A compared with group B. During follow-up, late lung cancer relapses were rare in both groups (2.1% vs 1.4%), and second primary malignancies were less frequent in group A (2.1% vs 9.5%, p = 0.032). The overall 10-year survival rate was lower in group A than in group B (67.3% vs 82.8%); however, there was no significant difference in lung cancer-specific survival (93.5% vs 95.1%). Intercurrent disease was the leading cause of death in group A (14 patients, 14.9%), most commonly respiratory failure resulting from community-acquired pneumonia.
Conclusion: Late cancer relapse or second primary malignancies were rare in long-term survivors after pneumonectomy, but the overall mortality remained high as a result of intercurrent diseases. Continued surveillance should focus on prevention, early detection and aggressive management of intercurrent disease during follow-up care of these patients.