Complications in thoracoscopic spinal surgery
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Background: The literature contains few reports on negative outcomes after thoracoscopic spinal surgery.
Methods: From November 1995 to February 1998, 90 patients underwent minimally invasive spinal surgery by thoracoscopic assistance as treatment for their anterior spinal lesions. The diagnoses included 41 spinal metastases, 13 cases of scoliosis, 12 burst fractures, 10 cases of tuberculous spondylitis, 8 cases of pyogenic spondylitis, 2 thoracic disc herniations, 2 cases of ankylosing spondylitis with discitis, 1 osteoporotic compression fracture, and 1 case of thoracolumbar kyphosis. The procedures included biopsy only (3 patients); thoracic discectomy (3 patients); multilevel anterior releases, discectomy, and fusion (14 patients); corpectomy for decompression (6 patients); corpectomy and interbody fusion (32) patients; and internal instrumentation (28 patients).
Results: A total of 30 complications were noted in 22 patients (24.4%). Two fatal complications occurred, resulting from massive blood transfusion in one case and postoperative pneumonia in another. Other nonfatal complications included four cases of transient intercostal neuralgia, three superficial wound infections, three cases of pharyngeal pain, two cases of lung atelectasis, two cases of residual pneumothorax, two cases of subcutaneous emphysema, one inadvertent pericardial penetration due to adhesion, one chylothorax that resolved after conservative management, one vertebral screw malposition, and one graft dislodgement that needed late revision surgery. Three patients required ventilatory support for longer than 72 hours. Five patients with spinal metastases had an estimated intraoperative blood loss of more than 2,000 ml. No injury to the internal organs or spinal cord was observed. There were four conversions to open procedures due to two cases of severe pleural adhesions and two poorly tolerated one-lung ventilation. At the latest follow-up, nine patients had died as a result of cancer dissemination.
Conclusions: (a) Well-selected patients and attention to details are essential to optimizing surgical results. (b) A refined technique for less invasive tumor surgery has been developed. (c) Surgeons had better experience with the standard anterior spinal approach and showed no hesitation in converting to an open procedure when necessary. A procedure failure does not mean a treatment failure.
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