The Role of Thoracic Surgery in the Therapeutic Management of Metastatic Non–Small Cell Lung Cancer

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In most patients with NSCLC, the disease is diagnosed in an advanced stage, the prognosis is poor, and survival is typically measured in months. Standard therapeutic treatment regimens for patients with stage IV NSCLC typically include chemotherapy and palliative radiation. Despite newer regimens that may include molecularly targeted therapy and immunotherapy, the overall 5-year survival for stage IV disease remains low at 4% to 6%. Although therapeutic surgery is performed in a minority of cases, accumulating data suggest that thoracic surgery may play several beneficial roles for these patients.


In this narrative review, we summarize the literature on surgical intervention in the multimodality management of stage IV NSCLC, focusing on the potential evidence for and against therapeutic or curative intent procedures to affect outcomes for patients with oligometastatic disease and pleural metastasis.


In selected patients, surgical resection can result in a 5-year survival rate of 30% to 50%, but this is heavily influenced by the presence of mediastinal nodal disease, which should be evaluated before therapeutic surgical procedures are undertaken. Additionally, diagnostic or palliative surgical procedures can play an important role in the personalized management of stage IV disease. These data suggest that for carefully selected patients with advanced stage NSCLC, surgical intervention can be an important component of combined modality treatment.


Given the advances in molecular targeted therapy and immunotherapy, further studies should focus on the possible use of surgery as a strategy of therapeutic “consolidation” for appropriately selected patients with stage IV NSCLC who are receiving combined modality care.

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