Surgery for emphysema can be fatal, and can kill 18 per cent of patients at high risk, a study has concluded.
The technique, lung volume reduction surgery, is dangerous under normal circumstances, but can be fatal if patients with severe disease undergo it. A safer option is standard medical care.
These alarming findings, first announced by the National Emphysema Treatment Trial (NETT) last October, have raised protests among the medical profession in America, where the trial was based.
Doctors are claiming the treatment is relatively safe and has improved the quality of life of many patients.
One doctor reckons it is all about money. Medicare, the health-insurance provider in the US, refuses to pay for the procedure - and the NETT findings provide further information to support this position (N Engl J Med, 2002; 346: 860-1).