The widely promoted lung volume reduction surgery that promises to help ease symptoms of severe emphysema and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) may not provide all the benefits that are expected, including prolonged life. Although the study found that participants reported improved symptoms, the research team from the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Service, deemed the procedure high risk, as surgical patients had a higher death rate after 90 days than those who did not have the operation.
The study’s findings are of importance because they are aiding in the United States government’s decision to have the procedure covered by Medicare for those patients age 65 and older. Currently, Medicare does not pay for the operation, which costs about $60,000, a large price tag for the risk incurred.
About a quarter of study participants saw significant symptom improvement, some even able to go for walks and exercise, but Dr. Gail Weinmann, project officer at the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute and sponsor of the study, warns that the effects of the surgery vary widely among patients. Additionally, she noted that after 36 months the death rate was 20 percent in those who underwent the procedure.
''This is the kind of information patients should know when they are thinking about whether they should have treatment,'' said Dr. Weinmann. “It is not a procedure for everyone.”
Dr. Sean Tunis, chief medical officer of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid services added that Medicare would probably make a coverage decision in 30 to 90 days.