A retrospective comparative study of surgery followed by chemotherapy vs. non-surgical management in limited-disease small cell lung cancer

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The role of surgery in limited SCLC is still a matter of controversy. Even though the response rates to chemotherapy are very high, prognosis of SCLC patients has remained poor with a median survival of only 12-14 months for limited disease. High incidence of local relapses after chemotherapy in limited-stage SCLC led to reassessment of the role of local treatment in the multimodality management of this tumor.


We performed retrospective comparative analysis of survival in a series of 134 limited-stage SCLC patients treated between 1984 and 1996 with either complete resection followed by chemotherapy (67 patients), or with conventional non-surgical management (67 patients). In all patients who underwent resection, the diagnosis of SCLC was established only postoperatively. The control (non-surgical) group was selected using ‘pair-matched case-control’ methodology, out of 176 limited-stage patients potentially suitable for surgery (i.e. with no pleural effusion or other local advancement, no supraclavicular lymph node involvement and good performance status), but treated without resection. The major prognostic factors were well balanced between these two groups. Total series included 109 males and 25 females, 20 patients with T1 and 114 patients with T2 disease, 51 N0, 43 N1 and 40 N2 disease.


Median survival in patients treated with and without surgery was 22 months and 11 months, respectively, (P<0.001). The two-year and five-year survival probabilities were 43 and 27%, respectively, in the surgical group, and 17 and 4%, respectively, in the non-surgical group. Subset analysis confirmed significantly longer survival with surgery in all T and N categories, except for N2 disease. Local relapse occurred in 15 and 55% of patients treated with and without surgery, respectively, (P<0.001). Distant relapse probabilities were similar in both groups (36 and 40%, respectively). The most common site of metastases in the entire series was brain, followed by liver, lymph nodes, bone, lung and skin.


Our results suggest a possible role of surgery in limited-stage SCLC. Thus, a randomised study addressing this issue seems to be justified.

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