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Respiration. 2006;73(6):717-32.

The future in diagnosis and staging of lung cancer: surgical techniques.

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Department of Thoracic Surgery, Royal Brompton Hospital, London, UK.


Surgical techniques remain central to the diagnosis and staging of lung cancer. Clinical situations which invoke the role of surgery include the diagnosis of solitary pulmonary masses, staging of the mediastinum, restaging of the mediastinum and the assessment of resectability. The techniques available include cervical mediastinoscopy, anterior mediastinotomy, video-assisted thoracoscopy and different procedures for intra-operative mediastinal lymph node assessment including systematic nodal dissection, lobe-specific nodal dissection and sentinel node mapping. The staging of lung cancer is continuously evolving as technological advances combine with clinical advances to better stratify patients into treatment and prognostic categories and alter pre-operative investigation algorithms. Although most of the surgical techniques have been around for many years, it is their application in future which is likely to change. The increasing use of positron emission tomography/computed tomography fusion imaging is raising the proportion of patients being shown to have additional lesions that could contraindicate surgical treatment but which require tissue confirmation to exclude a false-positive examination. Many such lesions are amenable to the expanding techniques available to the interventional endoscopist. The relationship between the surgeon and the endoscopist must become closer to ensure that the appropriate technique is used at each point in the patient's pathway. The future of surgical techniques will be driven by: (1) developments in screening and imaging, with a likelihood that more early stage cancers will present and may be amenable to minimally invasive surgical approaches with the possibility of a role for robotics and nanotechnology; (2) improvements in neoadjuvant therapies which will demand flawless mediastinal staging and restaging; (3) advances in molecular biology which, whilst currently requiring that surgery provide samples of tumour and lymph node tissue to fully characterize the disease, do hold the promise that ever smaller amounts of tissue will be required and that eventually the genetic fingerprint will provide a biological ultrastaging to perhaps supersede anatomical staging.

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