Pancoast tumors are aggressive bronchogenic lesions of the lung apex that are rapidly fatal if untreated. Modern treatment includes induction chemotherapy and radiotherapy prior to resection, but many authors also resect the T-1 nerve root (with or without the C-8 nerve root and the lower trunk of the brachial plexus) as part of the therapy, causing significant loss of hand function in many patients. The current authors determined whether a different approach allowing preservation of the brachial plexus and hand function could be adopted without compromising patient survival. An extensive historical review of Pancoast tumors is presented as a baseline for clinical comparison.
Five patients harboring Pancoast tumors with brachial plexus involvement underwent surgery performed by both a neurosurgeon and thoracic surgeon. In all cases the tumor was resected from the brachial plexus using neurolysis while preserving the C-8 and T-1 nerve roots and lower trunk of the brachial plexus.
One patient died 3 years posttreatment; the other four patients remain alive and well 2 to 5 years postoperatively. Hand function improved or remained normal in all four survivors, with postoperative intrinsic hand muscle function being Louisiana State University Medical Center Grade 5 in each patient. These results (2-year survival rate of 100%) compare favorably with the Southwest Oncology Group Data (overall 2-year survival rate of 55%; 70% in patients who had undergone complete resection). With a minimum 2-year follow-up, 80% of patients remained alive and well, with normal hand function.
Although this patient series is small, the findings are extremely encouraging and suggest that the described treatment paradigm preserves survival as well as hand function in patients with Pancoast tumors.