Needle localization of small pulmonary nodules: Lessons learned

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Lung nodules that are small and deep within lung parenchyma, and have semisolid characteristics are often challenging to localize with video-assisted thoracoscopic surgery (VATS). We describe our cumulative experience using needle localization of small nodules before surgical resection. We report procedural tips, operative results, and lessons learned over time.


A retrospective review of all needle localization cases between July 1, 2006, and December 30, 2016, at a single institution was performed. A total of 253 patients who underwent needle localization of lung nodules ranging from 0.6 to 1.2 cm before operation were enrolled. Nodules were localized by placing two 20-gauge Hawkins III coaxial needles from different trajectories with tips adjacent to the nodule, injection of 0.3 to 0.6 mL of methylene blue, and deployment of 2 hookwires, under computed tomography guidance. Patients then underwent VATS wedge resection for diagnosis, followed by anatomic resection for lung carcinoma. Procedural and perioperative outcomes were assessed.


Needle localization was successful in 245 patients (96.8%). Failures included both wires falling out of lung parenchyma before operation (5 patients), wire migration (2 patients), and bleeding resulting in hematoma requiring transfusion (1 patient). The most common complication of needle localization was asymptomatic pneumothorax (11/253 total patients; 4.3%) and was higher in patients with bullous emphysema (9/35 patients; 25.7%). Of the 8 individuals who had unsuccessful needle localization, 7 had successful wedge resection in the area of methylene blue injection that included the nodule; 1 required segmentectomy for diagnosis. Completion lobectomy (154 VATS, 2 minithoracotomies) or VATS segmentectomy (18 patients) was performed in 174 individuals with a diagnosis of non–small cell carcinoma or carcinoid. The average length of hospital stay was 1.4 days for wedge resection, 1.9 days for VATS segmentectomy, 3.1 days for VATS lobectomy, and 4.9 days for minithoracotomy. Perioperative survival was 100%.


Needle localization with hookwire deployment and methylene blue injection is a safe and feasible strategy to localize small, deep lung nodules for wedge resection and diagnosis. Multidisciplinary coordination between the thoracic surgeon and the interventional radiologist is key to the success of this procedure.

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