Improving the pathologic evaluation of lung cancer resection specimens
Accurate post-operative prognostication and management heavily depend on pathologic nodal stage. Patients with nodal metastasis benefit from post-operative adjuvant chemotherapy, those with mediastinal nodal involvement may also benefit from adjuvant radiation therapy. However, the quality of pathologic nodal staging varies significantly, with major survival implications in large populations of patients. We describe the quality gap in pathologic nodal staging, and provide evidence of its potential reversibility by targeted corrective interventions. One intervention, designed to improve the surgical lymphadenectomy, specimen labeling, and secure transfer between the operating theatre and the pathology laboratory, involves use of pre-labeled specimen collection kits. Another intervention involves application of an improved method of gross dissection of lung resection specimens, to reduce the inadvertent loss of intrapulmonary lymph nodes to histologic examination for metastasis. These corrective interventions are the subject of a regional dissemination and implementation project in diverse healthcare systems in a tri-state region of the United States with some of the highest lung cancer incidence and mortality rates. We discuss the potential of these interventions to significantly improve the accuracy of pathologic nodal staging, risk stratification, and the quality of specimens available for development of stage-independent prognostic markers in lung cancer.