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N Engl J Med. 2001 Oct 11;345(15):1075-83.

Patients at high risk of death after lung-volume-reduction surgery.



Lung-volume-reduction surgery is a proposed treatment for emphysema, but optimal selection criteria have not been defined. The National Emphysema Treatment Trial is a randomized, multicenter clinical trial comparing lung-volume-reduction surgery with medical treatment.


After evaluation and pulmonary rehabilitation, we randomly assigned patients to undergo lung-volume-reduction surgery or receive medical treatment. Outcomes were monitored by an independent data and safety monitoring board.


A total of 1033 patients had been randomized by June 2001. For 69 patients who had a forced expiratory volume in one second (FEV1) that was no more than 20 percent of their predicted value and either a homogeneous distribution of emphysema on computed tomography or a carbon monoxide diffusing capacity that was no more than 20 percent of their predicted value, the 30-day mortality rate after surgery was 16 percent (95 percent confidence interval, 8.2 to 26.7 percent), as compared with a rate of 0 percent among 70 medically treated patients (P<0.001). Among these high-risk patients, the overall mortality rate was higher in surgical patients than medical patients (0.43 deaths per person-year vs. 0.11 deaths per person-year; relative risk, 3.9; 95 percent confidence interval, 1.9 to 9.0). As compared with medically treated patients, survivors of surgery had small improvements at six months in the maximal workload (P= 0.06), the distance walked in six minutes (P=0.03), and FEV1 (P<0.001), but a similar health-related quality of life. The results of the analysis of functional outcomes for all patients, which accounted for deaths and missing data, did not favor either treatment.


Caution is warranted in the use of lung-volume-reduction surgery in patients with emphysema who have a low FEV1 and either homogeneous emphysema or a very low carbon monoxide diffusing capacity. These patients are at high risk for death after surgery and also are unlikely to benefit from the surgery.

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