Minimally Invasive Segmentectomy

  • Joshua R. Sonett
    Address reprint requests to Joshua R. Sonett, MD, FACS, Section of Thoracic Surgery, Columbia University, NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital, PH Room 104, 14th Floor, 622 West 168th Street, New York, NY 10032
    Section of Thoracic Surgery, Columbia University, NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital, New York, New York
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      Minimally invasive lobectomy and thoracic lymph node dissection is now widely established as a safe, anatomic, and oncologically sound procedure that may now be considered the standard of care for early-stage lung cancer. Technical familiarity and advances in equipment have now enabled many thoracic surgeons to apply these techniques to anatomic segmentectomy. Anatomic sublobar resection, segmentectomy, involves separate ligation of the segmental arteries, veins, and bronchial anatomy with concomitant hilar lymph node dissection. Although definitive indications for sublobar resection in early lung cancer are still debated in evolution, a clear distinction should be understood of the differences in anatomic sublobar resection as described in this text and stapled nonanatomic sublobar resections (wedge).
      Clear indications for anatomic lung-sparing resections in malignant and benign disease exist (Table 1), and continued debate is evolving as to the routine use of segmentectomy in early-stage lung cancer as a routine lung preservation technique (Table 2).
      Table 1Indications for Anatomic Segmentectomy
      Patient with insufficient cardiopulmonary reserve to tolerate lobectomy
      Multiple synchronous lesions requiring resection
      Centrally located metastatic disease requiring metastasectomy
      Resection of undiagnosed lesion for tissue assessment
      Atypical adenomatous hyperplasia
      Table 2Extended Indications for Segmentectomy
      Small peripheral tumors <2 cm
      Adenocarcinoma in situ (<3 cm formally BAC)
      Minimally invasive adenocarcinoma (<5 mm invasive adenocarcinoma)
      When deciding on anatomic segmentectomy vs formal lobectomy in a patient with nonsmall-cell lung cancer, great care must be taken not to try to preserve lung at the cost of oncological failures. This is especially important as we await more definitive proof of the sublobar study. Patient selection must weigh the benefit of sublobar resection in that patient vs the potential for suboptimal cancer care. Given the propensity of tumors not to have necessarily chosen to live in the center of a common segment, that supports resection, the decision can be greatly blurred.
      Additionally, one must ask how much lung preservation is really benefiting the patient in regards to improved pulmonary function that is relevant. Thus, only lesions that are situated centrally in anatomic location that afford excellent margins should be considered.
      The most common and anatomically apparent segmentectomies performed are as follows:
      • Superior segments of the lower lobes
      • Composite basilar segments of the lower lobes
      • Lingular-sparing left upper lobectomy (trisegmentectomy)
      • Lingula of the left lobe
      • Posterior segment of the right upper lobe
      • Apical segment of the right upper lobe

      General Surgical Approach

      Video-assisted thoracic surgery (VATS) segmentectomy is performed via the same access and port positions that one usually uses for an anatomic lobe resection. Initial exploration of all lobes and the pleural space is performed to rule out additional lesions, metastatic disease, or gross anatomic abnormalities. The fissures are assessed for ease of procedure, but fissureless techniques are applicable in segmentectomy.
      Final confirmation of the correct bronchial segment can be facilitated with insufflations of the lung after isolation of the bronchus, and final confirmation may be performed using a bronchoscope. The bronchoscopic confirmation may be quite comforting given the common cross-segmental ventilation that may occur even with proper bronchial isolation. I find marking the segmental delineation with an indelible operative marking pen during ventilation testing helps with stapling the segment once atelectasis returns. Segmental bronchial dissection is facilitated with a peanut. I also find placing a silk suture around the bronchus for retraction helps facilitate stapling and confirmation of the segmental anatomy.
      Initial dissection of the mediastinal and progressive hilar lymph nodes is important to assure safe sublobar resection and facilitate resection. All nodes are sent for frozen section analysis, and sublobar resection is abandoned if positive nodes are identified.
      All specimens are removed from the chest in a protected fashion; I use a bag for the segment and a wound protector for the lymph nodes.

      Operative Technique

      Segmental Anatomy

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      Figure 1Right lung segmental anatomy (A), Left lung segmental anatomy (B). Figurative diagram of segmental anatomy. The most common segments approached include the posterior segment of the right upper lobe, although all the segments of the right upper lobe can be resected. Lower lobe segmental resection is primarily resected as superior segment or composite basilar segments, although the anterior basil segment can be readily approached as a primary segmental resection.

      Posterior Segment Right Upper Lobe

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      Figure 2Posterior segment right upper lobe, positioning. This segment is accomplished almost completely posteriorly and in the posterior aspect of the fissure. After the posterior hilum is released, subcarinal nodes and the level 11 node lying at the bifurcation of the upper lobe and bronchus intermedius are removed and sent for frozen analysis. Initial dissection is directed at completing the peripheral fissure posteriorly up to the hilum. Dissection from posterior to anterior in the fissure should then reveal the posterior segmental vein. Dissection is facilitated by rotating the table anteriorly so gravity helps expose the posterior hilum and is additionally facilitated with sponge stick retraction. RML, right middle lobe; RUL, right upper lobe.
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      Figure 3The vein is dissected in the fissure and prepared for isolation. Dissection is performed with sharp scissor dissection, utilizing a VATS long-action forceps and standard long-handled scissors. As dissection proceeds, the posterior ascending artery is visualized and protected. To facilitate stapling, a 2-0 silk is frequently passed around the vein. Curved Debakey forceps can be used to pass posterior to the vein and anterior to the segmental artery. All stapling can be facilitated with excellent angles using an inferior-anterior inframammary incision. Additional dissection suction help can be facilitated with a posterior–inferior access incision. a., artery; v., vein.
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      Figure 4After carefully transecting the vein, the posterior ascending artery may be visualized directly behind the transected vein. The dissection proceeds again with VATS Debakey retraction and scissor dissection. The artery is isolated and a silk stay suture is placed around the artery for retraction. I favor a renal artery pedicle clamp to pass around the arteries. The vascular stapler is introduced via the anterior inferior mammary access incision. If visualization of these structures is not evident posteriorly, then dissection in the fissure is necessary to identify the main PA in the fissure and to identify the posterior ascending artery by direct dissection distally on the PA.
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      Figure 5After transection of the artery, the segmental bronchus and upper lobe bronchus proper are visualized. The bronchus is further isolated and dissected by encircling a silk suture that aids with retraction, and then using peanut dissection on the bronchus. The bronchus is best divided by using the lower, more anterior (lying lateral to the inferior breast crease) for entry of the stapler. Confirmation of the correct segmental bronchus can be aided with a pediatric bronchoscope. After ligation and division of the bronchus, the segmental plane is finished with a deep-tissue endostapler. RUL, right upper lobe.

      Lingular-Sparing Left Upper Lobectomy

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      Figure 6Positioning and ports for lingular-sparing left upper lobectomy. Initial approach and steps of this procedure are performed as a standard left upper lobectomy.
      This segmentectomy, except for the nodal dissection, is performed completely from the anterior approach. Initial dissection involves hilar release of superior veins, with clear identification of the lingular branch. This can be accomplished with Debakey forceps retraction and long tip Bovie electrocautery. Hilar, aortopulmonary lymph nodes are then dissected as well as level 10 and 7 and these are all sent for frozen section. The superior pulmonary vein with the exclusion of the lingular branch is then isolated and transected. The stapler is best introduced via the most anterior, inframammary incision. PV, pulmonary vein.
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      Figure 7After the superior pulmonary vein is stapled, dissection of the main pulmonary artery usually reveals 2 to 3 anterior apical branches of the left upper lobe. These can be directly isolated and stapled with the stapler via the inferior mammary access incision. The next pulmonary branch is the posterior branch to the left upper lobe. This cannot easily be isolated without first isolating and stapling the left upper lobe bronchus. The bronchus is dissected, often with the aid of peanut dissection; after the lingular bronchus is identified, isolation of the left upper lobe bronchus is performed. A curved renal artery clamp is gently passed around the left upper lobe bronchus. Great care is performed in this maneuver by keeping the tips of the clamp intimately in contact with the left upper lobe bronchus, as the main pulmonary can be easily injured, as it lies directly posterior to the bronchus. Once the silk is placed around the bronchus, traction can help hold the bronchus away from the pulmonary artery, allowing access for stapling via the inferior mammary port. LUL, left upper lobe; LULV, left upper lobe vein; PA, pulmonary artery.
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      Figure 8After stapling the left upper lobe bronchus, just distal to the lingular branch, the left upper lobe is lifted superiorly and anteriorly. This allows easy visualization of the remaining arterial branches to the left upper lobe. The last branch or branches are stapled again via the inferior mammary access port. The lung is ventilated to help delineate the remaining viable lingual, and the lobectomy is finished by stapling the lung at the demarcation of the lingual and left upper lobe segments. Stapling is facilitated by first prepping the area to be stapled by compressing the tissues with a long sponge forceps and then stapling with thick tissue staples. LUL, left upper lobe.

      Left Lower Lobe Segmentectomy

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      Figure 9Superior segment left lower lobe, positioning. The left or right superior segment of the lower lobe is performed similarly, and dissection is almost entirely performed from the posterior hilum. The access incisions are lowered at least 1 interspace and the table is rotated anteriorly. Initial dissection is greatly facilitated by using a sponge stick via the larger access incision to retract the lung anteriorly. In this manner the access incision can also still be used to introduce instruments. As with all the segmentectomies, attention is first paid to identifying and ligating the venous segmental anatomy. The superior segmental artery lies just underneath and slightly superior to the vein, and the superior segmental bronchus lies directly below the vein. PA, pulmonary artery.
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      Figure 10After transection of the vein, the segmental artery is readily identifiable; the dissection is directed by performing an extensive hilar and mediastinal lymph node dissection that helps to delineate the anatomy. Dissection proceeds by using a VATS Debakey forceps via the anterior incision and long standard scissors or Bovie in the inferior access incision. A long curved VATS forceps is then ideal to help pass silk suture around the superior segmental artery. The segmental artery is ligated and cut with an avascular stapler introduced via the inferior incision.
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      Figure 11Completion of fissure and segmental stapling. Completion of the segment requires initial separation of the posterior major fissure. This is facilitated by lifting the lung on either side of the fissure anteriorly and toward the chest wall and then stapling in a downward direction toward the main pulmonary artery posteriorly. After completion of this fissure, the segment is stapled with deep tissue staples from the inferior inframammary incision.

      Left Lower Lobe Basilar Segmentectomy

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      Figure 12The access incisions and position of the patient are the same as for the left lower lobe superior segment. However, the dissection begins by taking down the inferior pulmonary ligament until the inferior pulmonary vein is identified. This is accomplished by holding the lung with a sponge forceps via the upper larger access incisions and using a long Bovie electrocautery via the lower anterior access incision. Dissection proceeds anteriorly and inferiorly over the vein; posteriorly, the left main bronchus is identified and released from the hilum during this dissection. Again posteriorly, the superior segmental vein is identified, and this time preserved as the common vein to the basilar segments is stapled from the inferior incision.
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      Figure 13Exposing and transecting the basilar artery. Exposure and ligation of the basilar artery can be performed by 2 approaches. The first, and perhaps quickest, is by retracting the lung cephalad and stapling the segmental bronchus (composite basilar) and then the artery in a completely fissure-less technique. I do not favor this approach as the superior segmental branch of the bronchus and artery can be put in jeopardy. Thus, at this point, I first identify the pulmonary artery from below, by supporting the lung cephalad and gently dissecting along the medial aspect of the basilar bronchus.
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      Figure 14Once the pulmonary artery is identified and can be protected, the fissure is completed by stapling. The fissure between the lingual and left upper lobe is initially stapled very easily and safely up the hilum and the previously identified pulmonary artery. The lung tissue overlying the pulmonary artery in the central area of the fissure is then serially dissected off the pulmonary artery and stapled. In this manner no direct fissure dissection is performed, only stapling, and air leaks are decreased, while completely exposing the main pulmonary and its branches.
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      Figure 15The pulmonary artery to the basilar segments are stapled, which exposes the complete bronchial anatomy. Peanut dissection further defines the bronchial anatomy with the emphasis on defining the crotch between the superior segmental bronchus and the basilar bronchus; a silk is passed around the basilar bronchus and retracted via the inferior inframammary access incision. The basilar bronchus is then test clamped and the lung inflated to insure patency of the superior segmental bronchus; then, the bronchus is stapled via the primary access incision.


      Anatomic segmentectomy can be safely and reproducibly performed as a minimally invasive procedure. The techniques and dissection are a natural evolution of lessons learned from minimally invasive lobectomy. Because the Lung Cancer Study Group seminal prospective series on lobectomy vs less than lobectomy defined lobectomy as the standard of care, multiple single-institution studies have produced compelling data that show anatomic segmentectomy may be performed with identical lung cancer survival in select patients. This debate has been accelerated with the advent of lung cancer screening protocols as well as alternatives to resection such as radiofrequency ablation and “radiosurgery.” However, the safe oncological use of sublobar resections is currently undergoing rigorous prospective study in a Cancer and Leukemia Group B and intergroup study (Cancer and Leukemia Group B trial 140503): Conventional lobectomy vs wedge or segmentectomy for small peripheral tumors <2 cm.


      The author would like to acknowledge the assistance of Cole Sonett in the preparation of the initial sketches of artwork that were sent to Mr. Gordon for the final illustrations.