Objective: Adequate intraoperative lymph node (LN) assessment is a critical component of early-stage non–small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) resection. The National Comprehensive Cancer Network and the American College of Surgeons Commission on Cancer (CoC) recommend station-based sampling minimums agnostic to tumor location. Other institutions advocate for lobe-specific LN sampling strategies that consider the anatomic likelihood of LN metastases. We examined the relationship between lobe-specific LN assessment and long-term outcomes using a robust, highly curated cohort of stage I NSCLC patients. Methods: We performed a cohort study using a uniquely compiled dataset from the Veterans Health Administration and manually abstracted data from operative and pathology reports for patients with clinical stage I NSCLC (2006-2016). For simplicity in comparison, we included patients who had right upper lobe (RUL) or left upper lobe (LUL) tumors. Based on modified European Society of Thoracic Surgeons guidelines, lobe-specific sampling was defined for RUL tumors (stations 2, 4, 7, and 10 or 11) and LUL tumors (stations 5 or 6, 7, and 10 or 11). Our primary outcome was the risk of cancer recurrence, as assessed by Fine and Gray competing risks modeling. Secondary outcomes included overall survival (OS) and pathologic upstaging. Analyses were adjusted for relevant patient, disease, and treatment variables. Results: Our study included 3534 patients with RUL tumors and 2667 patients with LUL tumors. Of these, 277 patients (7.8%) with RUL tumors and 621 patients (23.2%) with LUL tumors met lobe-specific assessment criteria. Comparatively, 34.7% of patients met the criteria for count-based assessment, and 25.8% met the criteria for station-based sampling (ie, any 3 N2 stations and 1 N1 station). Adherence to lobe-specific assessment was associated with lower cumulative incidence of recurrence (adjusted hazard ratio [aHR], 0.83; 95% confidence interval [CI], 0.70-0.98) and a higher likelihood of pathologic upstaging (aHR, 1.49; 95% CI, 1.20-1.86). Lobe-specific assessment was not associated with OS. Conclusions: Adherence to intraoperative LN sampling guidelines is low. Lobe-specific assessment is associated with superior outcomes in early-stage NSCLC. Quality metrics that assess adherence to intraoperative LN sampling, such as the CoC Operative Standards manual, also should consider lobe-specific criteria.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)271-283
Number of pages13
JournalJTCVS Open
StatePublished - Feb 2024


  • lung cancer
  • lymph node
  • recurrence
  • survival


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