Surgery provides the best possible chance to remove the lung cancer. Yet lung cancer surgery is a complicated procedure that can have severe consequences; hence it will be performed by a specialist who has experience and training in the treating the disease and performing the lung cancer operation.
Different surgeries can be used to treat lung cancer. Nearby lymph nodes are also removed with any of these surgeries to look for possible cancer spread. These operations require general anesthesia and are usually done by a large surgical incision in the side of the chest or back between the ribs (called a thoracotomy).
What is Pneumonectomy?
Pneumonectomy for lung cancer removes a whole lung and could be necessary if the tumor is near the center of the chest.
What is Lobectomy?
The lungs consist of 5 lobes (3 to the right, and 2 to the left). The entire lobe which contains the tumor is removed in lobectomy surgery. That is often the preferred type of operation for NSCLC if it can be done.
What is Segmentectomy or wedge resection?
Only part of a lobe is removed in wedge resection of lung. This approach could be used if a person lacks sufficient normal lung function to withstand removing the entire lobe.
What is Sleeve resection?
This surgery may be used to treat some lung cancers in large airways. Imagine the large airway with a tumor a few inches above the wrist as similar to the sleeve of a shirt with a stain. The sleeve resection would be like cutting over the sleeve (airway) above and under the stain (tumor) and then stitching the cuff back onto the shortened sleeve. Instead of a pneumonectomy a surgeon can be able to perform this procedure to maintain functioning of the lung.
What is Video-assisted thoracic surgery (VATS)?
Video-assisted thoracic surgery (VATS), also known as thoracoscopy, is a technique most commonly used by doctors to treat early-stage lung cancers. It uses smaller incisions, typically has a shorter stay in the hospital and less complications than a thoracotomy. Most experts recommend that lung tumors may only be treated this way in the early stages. After this surgery the lung cancer cure rate seems to be the same as with a larger incision surgery. But it is important that the surgeon is experienced doing this procedure, because it requires a lot of skill.
What is Robotically-assisted thoracic surgery (RATS)?
The thoracoscopy procedure is performed using a robotic system in this approach. In the operating room, the surgeon sits on a control panel and moves robotic arms to operate through multiple tiny incisions in the chest of the patient. RATS is similar to VATS in terms of less pain, loss of blood and time to recover. The robotic device can provide the surgeon with more manoeuvrability and precision when moving the instruments than regular VATS. Nevertheless, the most significant factor in the effectiveness of any form of thorascopic surgery is the experience and skill of the surgeon.
The type of surgery your doctor recommends depends on the size and location of the tumor and how well your lungs perform. Doctors also tend to conduct more intensive surgery if a person’s lungs are healthy enough, because it will have a greater chance of curing cancer.
Side effects of lung cancer surgery
Possible complications during and soon after surgery can include:
- Reactions to anesthesia
- Blood clots in the legs or lungs
- Excess bleeding
- Wound infections
What is recovery like after lung cancer surgery?
It typically takes weeks to months to recover from lung cancer surgery. If the operation is done with a thoracotomy, the surgeon will spread ribs to get to the lung, so that the region close to the incision can hurt after operation for some time. Your activity can be restricted for at least a month or two. Patients with VATS rather than thoracotomy appear to experience less discomfort post-surgery and also recover quickly.
If your lungs are in good condition, when a lobe or even a whole lung has been removed, you can usually return to normal activities after some time. If you already have another lung disease such as emphysema or chronic bronchitis, after surgery, you may experience shortness of breath with certain activity levels.