Article Abstract

Tuberculosis: mother of thoracic surgery then and now, past and prospectives: a review

Authors: Tamas F. Molnar


Knowledge on ontogenesis of thoracic surgery is essential not only for understanding present concepts and debates on surgery for tuberculosis, but it also contributes to the further developments in operative treatment of lung cancer. Both diseases have been the leading cause of death in their respective ages. History of tuberculosis follows the classic algorithm: diagnostic, casuistic and therapeutical stages. Villemin followed by Virchow, and, finally, Koch revealed the pathoanatomy and the cause of tuberculosis. The therapeutic phase of lung cancer has been reached without identified cause of the disease. Chest surgery, eradication of the macroscopic focus by physical interference with the involved tissue mass, in both diseases preceded medical treatment. Identification of phenotypes of lung cancer—if it is a single disease at all—does not contravene the concept: the tumor mass should been eliminated. However, causation is not an absolute sine qua non of an effective treatment, as the tuberculosis-lung cancer analogy also proves. Surgical approach of both diseases suffered from the same paraoxon: eradication without direct interference with the causative factor. While lung cancer seems to be controlled by an emerging array of new drugs, tuberculosis poses a new challenge, as multidrug resistant and extensively drug resistant Koch bacteria are emerging and fragile societies’ immunity is weakening. Thoracic surgery has a significant share in the fight against tuberculosis, when drugs and/or society fail. Palliative and radical adjuvant surgery multiplies the chance of cure in those cases, where not much hope is left. The jury is still out in a series of questions, but it is obvious, that surgery is only an option and not a panacea where medicines and their providers fail. Deeper understanding of our past and present failures with tuberculosis and its surgery might contribute to new concepts in coping with lung cancer as well.