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J Thorac Cardiovasc Surg. 1999 Jan;117(1):39-52; discussion 52-3.

Clinical experience with carinal resection.

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General Thoracic Surgical Unit, Massachusetts General Hospital, Department of Surgery, Harvard Medical School, Boston, Mass 02114, USA.



Pathologic processes that involve the carina pose a tremendous challenge to thoracic surgeons. Although techniques have been developed to allow primary resection and reconstruction, few institutions have accumulated sufficient experience to allow meaningful conclusions about the indications and the morbidity and mortality rates for this type of surgery.


Since 1962, 135 patients have undergone 143 carinal resections (134 primary resection, 9 re-resection) at our institution. Indications for carinal resection included bronchogenic cancer (58 patients), other airway neoplasms (60 patients), and benign or inflammatory strictures (16 patients). Thirty-seven patients (28%) had a history of prior lung or airway surgery not involving the carina. Carinal resection without pulmonary resection was accomplished in 52 patients; 57 patients had carinal pneumonectomy (44 right, 13 left); 14 patients had carinal plus lobar resection, and 11 patients had carinal resection after pneumonectomy (9 left, 2 right). There were 15 different modes of reconstruction, based on the type and extent of resection. Techniques were used to reduce anastomotic tension.


The operative mortality rate in the 134 patients after primary carinal resection was 12.7%. Adult respiratory distress syndrome was responsible for 9 early deaths. Predominant predictors of operative death included postoperative mechanical ventilation (P =.001), length of resected airway (P =.03), and development of anastomotic complications (P =.04). Mortality rates varied by the type of procedure and the indication for resection. Left carinal pneumonectomy was associated with a high operative mortality rate (31%). Complications were noted in 52 patients (39%), including atrial arrhythmias (20 patients) and pneumonia (11 patients). Anastomotic complications, both early and late, were seen in a total of 23 patients (17%) and resulted in death or surgical reintervention in 21 patients (91%). The operative mortality rate for carinal re-resection was 11.1%.


Carinal resection with primary reconstruction may be accomplished with acceptable mortality rates, but the underlying pathologic process and chance for long-term survival must be carefully considered before the operation is recommended, especially in the case of left carinal pneumonectomy. Anastomotic complications exact a heavy toll on involved patients. Careful patient selection and meticulous anesthetic and surgical technique remain the key to minimizing morbidity and mortality rates.

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