Introduction: The American College of Surgeons Commission on Cancer recently updated its sampling recommendations for early stage NSCLC from at least 10 lymph nodes to at least one N1 (hilar) and three N2 (mediastinal) lymph node stations. Nevertheless, intraoperative lymph node sampling minimums remain subject to debate. We sought to evaluate these guidelines in patients with early stage NSCLC. Methods: We performed a cohort study using a uniquely compiled data set from the Veterans Health Administration. We manually abstracted data from operative notes and pathology reports of patients with clinical stage I NSCLC receiving surgery (2006–2016). Adequacy of lymph node sampling was defined using count-based (≥10 lymph nodes) and station-based (≥three N2 and one N1 nodal stations) minimums. Our primary outcome was recurrence-free survival. Secondary outcomes were overall survival and pathologic upstaging. Results: The study included 9749 patients. Count-based and station-based sampling guidelines were achieved in 3302 (33.9%) and 2559 patients (26.3%), respectively, with adherence to either sampling guideline increasing over time from 35.6% (2006) to 49.1% (2016). Adherence to station-based sampling was associated with improved recurrence-free survival (multivariable-adjusted hazard ratio = 0.815, 95% confidence interval: 0.667–0.994, p = 0.04), whereas adherence to count-based sampling was not (adjusted hazard ratio = 0.904, 95% confidence interval: 0.757–1.078, p = 0.26). Adherence to either station-based or count-based guidelines was associated with improved overall survival and higher likelihood of pathologic upstaging. Conclusions: Our study supports station-based sampling minimums (≥three N2 and one N1 nodal stations) for early stage NSCLC; however, the marginal benefit compared with count-based guidelines is minimal. Further efforts to promote widespread adherence to intraoperative lymph node sampling minimums are critical for improving patient outcomes after curative-intent lung cancer resection.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1287-1296
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Thoracic Oncology
Issue number11
StatePublished - Nov 2022


  • Lymph node sampling
  • Non–small cell lung cancer
  • Quality metrics
  • Surgery


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