Introduction: Postoperative pulmonary complications (PPC) such as atelectasis and pneumonia are common following lung resection. PPCs have a significant clinical impact on postoperative morbidity and mortality. We studied the long-term effects of PPCs and sought to identify independent risk factors.
Methods: A prospective observational study involved all patients following lung resection in a regional thoracic centre over 4 years. PPCs were assessed daily in hospital using the Melbourne group scale based on chest X-ray, white cell count, fever, purulent sputum, microbiology, oxygen saturations, physician diagnosis and intensive therapy unit (ITU)/high-dependency unit readmission. Follow-up included hospital length of stay (LOS), 30-day readmissions, and mortality.
Results: 86 of 670 patients (13%) who had undergone a lung resection developed a PPC. Those patients had a significantly longer hospital LOS in days (13, 95% CI 10.5–14.9 vs 6.3, 95% CI 5.9 to 6.7; p<0.001) and higher rates of ITU admissions (28% vs 1.9%; p<0.001) and 30-day hospital readmissions (20.7% vs 11.9%; p<0.05). Significant independent risk factors for development of PPCs were COPD and smoking (p<0.05), not age. Excluding early postoperative deaths, developing a PPC resulted in a significantly reduced overall survival in months (40, 95% CI 34 to 44 vs 46, 95% CI 44 to 47; p=0.006). Those who developed a PPC had a higher rate of non-cancer-related deaths (11% vs 5%; p=0.020). PPC is a significant independent risk factor for late deaths in non-small cell lung cancer patients (HR 2.0, 95% CI 1.9 to 3.2; p=0.006).
Conclusions: Developing a PPC after thoracic surgery is common and is associated with a poorer long-term outcome.