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Is video-assisted thoracoscopic surgical decortication superior to open surgery in the management of adults with primary empyema?

A best evidence topic in thoracic surgery was written according to a structured protocol. The question addressed was whether video-assisted thoracoscopic surgical decortication (VATSD) might be superior to open decortication (OD) (or chest tube drainage) for the management of adults with primary empyema? Altogether 68 papers were found using the reported search, of which 14 represented the best evidence to answer the clinical question. The authors, journal, date and country of publication, patient group studied, study type, relevant outcomes and results of these papers are tabulated. We conclude that VATSD has superior outcomes for the treatment of persistent pleural collections in terms of postoperative morbidity, complications and length of hospital stay, and gives equivalent resolution when compared with OD. One study comparing VATSD and chest tube drainage of fibrinopurulent empyema found video-assisted thoracoscopic surgery (VATS) had higher treatment success (91% vs. 44%; P<0.05), lower chest tube duration (5.8+/-1.1 vs. 9.8+/-1.3 days; P=0.03), and lower number of total hospital days (8.7+/-0.9 vs. 12.8+/-1.1 days; P=0.009). Eight studies comparing early and late empyema report conversion rates to OD of 0-3.5% in early, 7.1-46% in late stage and significant reductions in length of stay with VATSD compared with OD both postoperatively (5 vs. 8 days; P=0.001) and in total stay (15 vs. 21; P=0.03). Additionally VATS resulted in reduced postoperative pain (P<0.0001) and complications including atelectasis (P=0.006), prolonged air-leak (P=0.0003), sepsis (P=0.03) and 30-day mortality (P=0.02). Five studies considered only chronic persistent empyema of which two directly compared VATSD to tube thoracostomy (TT). VATS resolved 88% of cases and had mortality rates of 1.3% compared with 62% and 11%, respectively, for TT. Moreover, conversion to OD was 10.5-17.1% with VATS and 18-37% with TT (P<0.05). In agreement with mixed stage empyema, hospital stay was reduced both postoperatively (8.3 vs. 12.8 days; P<0.05) and in total (14+/-1 vs. 17+/-1 days; P<0.05), and when compared with OD (one study), pain (P<0.0001), postoperative air-leak (P=0.004), hospital stay (P=0.020) and time to return to work (P<0.0001) were all reduced with VATS. Additionally, re-operation (4.8% vs. 1%; P=0.09) and mortality (4/123% vs. 0%) were lower in VATS vs. OD.

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