Sternal reconstruction—a rare but challenging issue for thoracic surgeons

Sternal reconstruction—a rare but challenging issue for thoracic surgeons

Hiran C. Fernando

Department of Cardiothoracic Surgery, Allegheny General Hospital, Pittsburgh, PA, USA

Correspondence to: Hiran C. Fernando. MBBS, FRCS, FRCSEd, FACS. Allegheny General Hospital, Pittsburgh, PA, USA. Email: Hiran.Fernando@AHN.ORG.

Provenance and Peer Review: This article was commissioned by the editorial office, Current Challenges in Thoracic Surgery. The article did not undergo external peer review.

Comment on: Wang H, Chen C, Shi Z, et al. Sternal resection and reconstruction with a multi-functional modular prosthesis. Curr Chall Thorac Surg 2019;1:16.

Received: 25 April 2020; Accepted: 20 May 2020; Published: 25 August 2020.

doi: 10.21037/ccts-2020-05

Sternal tumors are rare, and most thoracic surgeons will only see a few cases, during their careers. For this reason, large prospective studies, to determine the optimal method of reconstruction are lacking. The largest experiences tend to be retrospective, from major medical centers, with relatively small numbers of cases accumulated over long periods of time (1,2). It is difficult therefore to draw definitive conclusions as to what is the best approach.

Choices for reconstruction include pedicled muscle flap coverage, prosthetic or biological mesh, cadaveric allograft, or titanium plates which are often created using 3D printing (1-5). Wang et al. have added to this discussion, recently reporting an alternative approach using a multi-functional modular titanium prosthesis (6). In their report, an 80×70 mm2 sternal osteochondroma was resected, along with adjacent costal cartilages and ribs. The modular system was made of titanium alloy, with standardized width and thickness, but variable length for each segment. This allows tailoring of the prosthesis to better fit the sternal defect. In addition to the sternum being reconstructed in a modular fashion, individual rib modules are then attached to the sternal modules, with a gear structure, that allows the ribs modules to be placed at the most optimal angle to fit the thoracic defect. The patient in their report, was discharged without issues and had an uneventful follow-up of 32 months, demonstrating treatment success.

Generally, the goals of successful chest wall reconstruction are to restore chest wall rigidity, so preserving pulmonary mechanics and to protect intrathoracic organs. Most surgeons would agree that when a defect exceeds 5×5 mm2 that reconstruction is justified. No studies have compared the impact of reconstruction choice on pulmonary function and mechanics, however intuitively a rigid construction is likely to better protect underlying mediastinal structures. Titanium implants have been used for a number of years after orthopedic and maxillo-facial surgery, and, more recently for rib reconstruction (7). Titanium is well suited as a prosthetic material, as it has a high-resistance to corrosion, is biologically inert and due to its paramagnetic properties, unaffected by MRI. Disadvantages of rigid systems are that screws may loosen, and the prosthesis may dislodge. Infection is also a potential issue.

A major advantage of the modular system used by Wang et al. is that this can be immediately available, and also can be tailored to fit the defect at the time of surgery. This avoids the delay that may be required to plan and then 3D print a custom prosthesis, in addition to the availability and expense of having appropriate 3D printers in many institutions.

Further study with more patients and longer follow-up are needed. Ideally future studies could compare techniques, using end-points of pain, pulmonary function, the ability to return to normal activity, as well as the more traditional end-points of adverse events and survival. However, this will be challenging given the relative low incidence of sternal tumors, and the variability of clinical presentation of affected patients. The modular system used by Wang et al., may be ideal for prospective study, as this could potentially be more easily adopted by other centers, and for this reason is a welcome addition to the literature.


Funding: None.


Conflicts of Interest: The author has completed the ICMJE uniform disclosure form (available at and has no conflicts of interest to declare.

Ethical statement: The authors are accountable for all aspects of the work in ensuring that questions related to the accuracy or integrity of any part of the work are appropriately investigated and resolved.

Open Access Statement: This is an Open Access article distributed in accordance with the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 4.0 International License (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0), which permits the non-commercial replication and distribution of the article with the strict proviso that no changes or edits are made and the original work is properly cited (including links to both the formal publication through the relevant DOI and the license). See:


  1. Ahmad U, Yang H, Sima C, et al. Resection of Primary and Secondary Tumors of the Sternum: An Analysis of Prognostic Variables. Ann Thorac Surg 2015;100:215-21; discussion 221-2. [Crossref] [PubMed]
  2. Banuelos J, Abu-Ghname A, Bite U, et al. Reconstruction of Oncologic Sternectomy Defects: Lessons Learned from 60 Cases at a Single Institution. Plast Reconstr Surg Glob Open 2019;7:e2351. [Crossref] [PubMed]
  3. Ely S, Gologorsky RC, Hornik BM, et al. Sternal Reconstruction With Non-Rigid Biologic Mesh Overlay. Ann Thorac Surg 2020;109:e357-9. [Crossref] [PubMed]
  4. Marulli G, De Iaco G, Ferrigno P, et al. Sternochondral replacement: use of cadaveric allograft for the reconstruction of anterior chest wall. J Thorac Dis 2020;12:3-9. [Crossref] [PubMed]
  5. Aranda JL, Jiménez MF, Rodríguez M, et al. Tridimensional titanium-printed custom-made prosthesis for sternocostal reconstruction. Eur J Cardiothorac Surg 2015;48:e92-4. [Crossref] [PubMed]
  6. Wang HF, Xiao Y, Jin YX, et al. Zhonghua Wai Ke Za Zhi 2018;56:507-11. [Application of Multi-Functional Modularized Prosthesis in Reconstruction for Sternal Defect]. [PubMed]
  7. De Palma A, Sollitto F, Loizzi D, et al. Chest wall stabilization and reconstruction: short and long-term results 5 years after the introduction of a new titanium plates system. J Thorac Dis 2016;8:490-8. [Crossref] [PubMed]
doi: 10.21037/ccts-2020-05
Cite this article as: Fernando HC. Sternal reconstruction—a rare but challenging issue for thoracic surgeons. Curr Chall Thorac Surg 2020;2:23.