Surgical Treatment of Chest Wall Deformities (Congenital or Acquired) - CAM 070

Chest wall deformities are usually congenital but may be acquired due to trauma. There are 3 types of congenital chest wall deformities: pectus excavatum, pectus carinatum and Poland’s syndrome. Chest wall abnormalities can cause cardiopulmonary problems due to physiologic impairment. Symptoms frequently do not appear during childhood because of the pliability of the chest. As the child grows, the chest becomes more rigid, causing the patient to develop symptoms.

Pectus excavatum (PE) is the most common congenital chest wall deformity and is found predominantly in males. Pectus excavatum is also known as cobbler’s chest, sunken chest, hallowed breast or funnel breast. This condition is thought to occur due to an excessive growth of the lower costal cartilages, which causes a concave appearance of the chest. The lower third part of the inwardly displaced sternum is usually most affected. PE is usually diagnosed within the first year of life and tends to worsen as the child grows. It typically worsens during puberty, which is a time of rapid growth. The deformity may be deeper on the right side than the left, possibly due to a rotation of the sternum. This can cause various degrees of sternal depression. Sternal depression may cause dyspnea, chest pain, palpitations and fatigue with mild physical activity. Other symptoms of PE are frequent respiratory infections, asthmatic symptoms and functional impairment due to respiratory impairment. PE is frequently associated with scoliosis, Marfan syndrome and congenital heart disease.

Pectus carinatum (PC) is not as common as pectus excavatum, but like PE, is most frequently seen in males. Pectus carinatum is also known as pigeon breast, chicken breast and keeled chest. PC appears as a flattened chest with a bowed out appearance. This condition is not usually diagnosed until the rapid growth that occurs during puberty. Patients with pectus carinatum may have symptoms such as restrictive air exchange. Depending on the degree of the defect, they may have difficulty with expiration of air out of the lungs. Conditions associated with PC are respiratory infections, rickets, asthma and cardiac abnormalities.

Poland syndrome is a rare birth defect and appears with lateral depression of the ribs, usually on the right side more often than the left side. Poland syndrome is also known as Poland’s anomaly or Poland’s syndactyly. It, like PE and PC, is seen most frequently in males. When the defect occurs on the left side of the sternum, the heart and lungs are more affected because they are covered only by a thin layer of skin and tissue. Poland syndrome appears with absences or incomplete development of the pectoralis minor muscles and of the costal cartilages. Hypoplasia of the breast, subcutaneous tissue, lack of axillary hair and hand and upper extremity defects are also signs. Portions of the second, third and fourth ribs may be partially absent, as well as upper costal cartilage.

Diagnosis and Evaluation:
The severity of the chest wall abnormality is dependent upon the depth, symmetry and width of the deformity. Chest radiographs are commonly used to determine the degree of chest wall deformity. Plain anteroposterior and lateral radiographs are used to determine the Haller index (a measurement of chest diameter). Cross-sectional imaging such as computerized tomography (CT) scans and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) may be used to evaluate the degree of cardiac compression (ventricular compression), pulmonary compression and cardiac displacement. CT scan ratios that reveal transverse to AP diameter of greater than 3.25 are considered significant for pectus excavatum. A normal chest has an index of 2.5 (Malek et al., 2003; Fonkalsrud, 2004). Another method being investigated to determine the severity of chest wall deformity is the correction index that involves measuring the minimum distance between posterior sternum and anterior spine and the maximum distance between anterior spine most anterior portion of the chest. The difference between the two is then divided by the latter (×100) to give the percentage of chest depth representing the defect (St. Peter et al., 2011). The correction index is a newer method proposed to define the pectus deformity; however, in comparison to the Haller Index, the correction index has no clearly established threshold for determining the degree of chest wall deformity.

Echocardiography and/or electrocardiography may also be used to evaluate cardiac status. Respiratory status can be determined with the use of pulmonary function studies. In some cases, pulmonary function studies may reveal a restrictive pattern (incomplete lung expansion) and a subsequent decrease in pulmonary volume and reserve. The forced expiratory volume (in one second) (FEVl), forced vital capacity (FVC) and total lung capacity (TLC) are reduced while the ratio of FEV1FVC may be normal or increased in the presence of restrictive airway disease. TLC <80 percent predicted value signifies restrictive pulmonary disease. >

The diagnosis of Poland syndrome is usually obtained by clinical exam. Chest wall abnormalities and determining the presence of latissimus dorsi muscles may require CT scans while chest radiographs may be utilized to evaluate rib formation.

Surgical Treatment of Pectus Excavatum, Pectus Carinatum, or Poland syndrome may be Medically Necessary and reconstructive when the following guidelines are met:

  1. When there is functional impairment, documented by one of the following: The procedure is expected to correct the functional impairment; AND
    • decreased cardiac output and/or abnormal pulmonary function during exercise; OR
    • anticipation of future cardiovascular compromise; OR
    • signs or symptoms that impair the patient’s ability to participate in usual activities, such as shortness of breath (dyspnea) at rest or on exertion; OR
    • arrythmias or clinical stigmata of decreased cardiac output; AND
  2. The procedure is expected to correct the functional impairment; AND
  3. The anatomical criterion for the condition is met:
    • for treatment of Pectus Excavatum, the Haller Index is greater than or equal to 3.2, OR
    • for treatment of Pectus Carinatum, the Haller Index is less than or equal to 2.0, OR
    • for treatment of Poland syndrome, when rib formation is absent.

If the above criteria are not met surgical treatment is considered not Medically Necessary.

Policy Guidelines:
The Haller index, or pectus severity index, is the most common used scale for determining the severity of chest wall deformities. The Haller index is obtained by dividing the inner width of the chest at its widest point by the distance between the posterior surface of the sternum and the anterior surface of the spine. This measurement uses the deepest level of the inner sternal depression to the anterior aspect of the vertebral body. CT scans are used to define the index. At times the rotation, asymmetry and underlying chest structure may make this measurement difficult to obtain. A normal chest has a Haller index of about 2.5.

Surgical Treatment
Indications for surgical correction are controversial and vary widely. Surgical repair is offered primarily as a method of improving cosmesis and psychological factors but may be necessary to improve cardiopulmonary function in some patients, as the disfigurement may be accompanied by physiologic impairment.

Pectus Excavatum/Pectus Carinatum: While the optimal age for surgical repair is generally between the ages of 11 and 18 years, and may be performed in adults, each case must be reviewed individually for the presence of impaired cardiopulmonary symptoms. Criteria that may be used to demonstrate severe PE and the need for surgical repair include (Goretsky et al., 2004):

    • A Haller CT index greater than 3.25
    • Pulmonary function studies that indicate restrictive or obstructive airway disease
    • A cardiology evaluation, where the compression is causing murmurs, mitral valve prolapse, cardiac displacement, or conduction abnormalities on the echocardiogram or EKG

Surgery for PE may be performed using any one of several techniques, including a sternal osteotomy (i.e., a modified osteotomy that involves supporting, removing and repositioning the sternum) or implantation of a Silastic mold in the subcutaneous space to fill the defect without altering the thoracic cage. Surgical correction often employs a metal bar behind the sternum; the bar may be removed in one to two years, after remolding has occurred. The standard surgical procedure is the open Ravitch procedure, which involves extensive dissection, cartilage resection and sternal osteotomy. More recently, minimally invasive techniques, such as the Nuss procedure (i.e., a minimally invasive repair of pectus excavatum [MIRPE]), have been utilized that involves the insertion of a convex steel bar beneath the sternum through small thoracic incisions. These recently developed minimally invasive methods do not require cartilage resection or osteotomy.

For correction or improvement of PC, bracing is used to exert pressure on the anteroposterior direction. More specifically, bracing is recommended for skeletally immature children with mild deformities; however, the candidate must be motivated to wear the brace (Goretsky et al., 2004). If bracing is unsuccessful, surgical repair may be considered. The initial surgical repair for PC involves removing the affected cartilages and mobilizing the skin and pectoralis muscle flaps. To straighten the sternum, any one of the following surgeries may be performed:

    • An osteotomy
    • A subperichondrial resection of the involved costal cartilages
    • A wedge-shaped osteotomy in the anterior sternal plate

Poland Syndrome: Patients with Poland syndrome typically present for surgical reconstruction to improve physical appearance and correct breast asymmetry. Surgical procedures involving the breast and muscles to achieve symmetry are considered cosmetic, since there is no significant impairment being corrected. Patients who present with absent ribs are also considered candidates for surgical repair (Townsend, 2004). In such cases, operative reconstruction may eliminate paradoxical motion, improving respiratory impairment. For more severe conditions, reconstructive surgery also provides protection of the underlying heart and lung structures. While there are a variety of surgical techniques to correct the deformity, a common approach is to use the latissimus dorsi muscle with autologous rib grafts to reconstruct the chest wall.

Surgical treatment of Poland Syndrome often consists of reconstruction of the breast and nipple on the affected side by a plastic surgeon, in addition to surgical repair of the chest wall muscles and hypoplastic bone. Surgery is performed early (approximately age 13) in males; however, in females, reconstructive surgery is often deferred until breast development is complete. If there are rib abnormalities and paradoxical motion, the rib grafts or other chest wall stabilization may occur before breast development is complete. Generally, reconstruction of the breast involves tissue expansion, placement of permanent breast implants and may involve myocutaneous or latissimus dorsi flaps if there is an associated anomaly of the pectoral muscle. Nipple-areolar reconstruction is generally performed at a later stage. Consequently, for patients with Poland syndrome, treatment provided before complete breast development may involve the use of tissue expanders in the affected side that can be inflated periodically to match development of the unaffected breast. Expanders allow for tissue expansion and accommodation of a permanent implant and latissimus muscle upon completion of breast development. Once breast development is complete, the expander is removed and a permanent prosthesis is inserted and breast reconstruction is performed.

Surgical repair of the chest wall includes the reconstruction of the pectoral muscles and resection of deformed cartilages. This repair typically involves muscle transfers and/or flaps to match normal development of the unaffected side, reconstruction of the axillary line and correction of infraclavicular flattening. If necessary, reconstruction of the rib cage may be performed at this time with autologous rib grafts.


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Coding Section 

Code Number Description
CPT 00474 Anesthesia for Partial Rib Resection; Radical procedures (e.g., pectus excavatum)
  21740 Reconstructive repair of Pectus Excavatum or Carinatum; Open
  21742 Reconstructive repair of Pectus Excavatum or Carinatum; minimally invasive approach (nuss procedure), without Thoracoscopy
  21743 Reconstructive repair of Pectus Excavatum or Carinatum; minimally invasive approach (nuss procedure), with Thoracoscopy
ICD-9 Diagnosis 754.81 Pectus Excavatum
  754.82 Pectus Carinatum
ICD-9 Procedure 34.74 Repair of Pectus deformity
ICD-10-CM (effective 10/01/15)  Q676  Pectus excavatum 
  Q677  Pectus carinatum 
ICD-10-PCS (effective 10/01/15)  0WU80JZ Supplement Chest Wall with Synthetic Substitute, Open Approach 
  0WU84JZ  Supplement Chest Wall with Synthetic Substitute, Percutaneous Endoscopic Approach 

Procedure and diagnosis codes on Medical Policy documents are included only as a general reference tool for each policy. They may not be all-inclusive.   

This medical policy was developed through consideration of peer-reviewed medical literature generally recognized by the relevant medical community, U.S. FDA approval status, nationally accepted standards of medical practice and accepted standards of medical practice in this community, Blue Cross Blue Shield Association technology assessment program (TEC) and other non-affiliated technology evaluation centers, reference to federal regulations, other plan medical policies and accredited national guidelines.

"Current Procedural Terminology© American Medical Association. All Rights Reserved" 

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