Pectus excavatum in a 112-year autopsy series: anatomic findings and the effect on survival



      The purpose of this study was to determine the frequency of pectus excavatum and associated conditions in a large autopsy series. It also sought to determine whether there were different survival patterns for pectus excavatum patients than for patients without pectus excavatum.


      A computer-assisted search of autopsy files maintained by Johns Hopkins University was conducted, dating from 1889 to 2001. Each patient's Autopsy Pathology Information System report was reviewed for diagnosis and comorbid conditions. To determine whether there were differences in survival patterns, we tested whether pectus excavatum patients survived longer than controls, using a standard epidemiological method. Each patient in the autopsy series was compared with the 2 patients entered in the autopsy database chronologically immediately before and the 2 patients immediately after the case. A Kaplan-Meier survival analysis was conducted.


      Pectus excavatum was identified at autopsy in 62 of 50,496 cases. Of these 62 patients, 17 were 65 years or older and appeared to have died of causes unrelated to pectus excavatum, the oldest being 91 years. Twenty-one were between the ages of 14 and 65 years and were found to have coexisting conditions or syndromes. Six were between the ages of 1 and 4 years. One of the 6 died in 1947 because of complications from pectus repair. No autopsied patient with pectus excavatum died between the ages of 5 and 14 years. Eighteen were infants younger than 1 year, and all 18 died because of conditions unrelated to pectus excavatum. There were no reported cases of pectus excavatum before 1947, and the severity of deformity could not be determined from the autopsy data. Survival analysis indicated that pectus excavatum patients had a different survival than the controls. Pectus excavatum patients tended to die earlier (P = .0001). However, pectus excavatum patients who survived past the age of 56 years tended to survive longer than their matched controls (P = .0001).


      Although there were no histological abnormalities noted in the cartilage of the pectus excavatum patient's conditions, pectus excavatum was associated with several connective tissue abnormalities. Analysis is consistent with the theory that this condition can impact survival.

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