OBJECTIVES The feasibility and radicalism of lymph node dissection for lung cancer surgery by a single-port technique has frequently been challenged. We performed a retrospective cohort study to investigate this issue. METHODS Two chest surgeons initiated multiple-port thoracoscopic surgery in a 180-bed cancer centre in 2005 and shifted to a single-port technique gradually after 2010. Data, including demographic and clinical information, from 389 patients receiving multiport thoracoscopic lobectomy or segmentectomy and 149 consecutive patients undergoing either single-port lobectomy or segmentectomy for primary non-small-cell lung cancer were retrieved and entered for statistical analysis by multivariable linear regression models and Box-Cox transformed multivariable analysis. RESULTS The mean number of total dissected lymph nodes in the lobectomy group was 28.5 ± 11.7 for the single-port group versus 25.2 ± 11.3 for the multiport group; the mean number of total dissected lymph nodes in the segmentectomy group was 19.5 ± 10.8 for the single-port group versus 17.9 ± 10.3 for the multiport group. In linear multivariable and after Box-Cox transformed multivariable analyses, the single-port approach was still associated with a higher total number of dissected lymph nodes. CONCLUSIONS The total number of dissected lymph nodes for primary lung cancer surgery by single-port video-assisted thoracoscopic surgery (VATS) was higher than by multiport VATS in univariable, multivariable linear regression and Box-Cox transformed multivariable analyses. This study confirmed that highly effective lymph node dissection could be achieved through single-port VATS in our setting.