Lung cancer surgery has the goal of curing lung cancer. The procedure may involve a doctor making large incisions or using minimally invasive techniques. They can remove a whole lung or sections of it. Risks include heavy bleeding and blood clots.
Lung cancer is when lung cells grow and divide abnormally quickly, forming a tumor. Some people with lung cancer can benefit from surgery, although it is not always an appropriate treatment option.
This article discusses lung cancer surgery and who may benefit. It also outlines the main types, methods, and risks.
There are two main
Both types develop in stages, with earlier stages being less serious.
According to the
Some people might not have adequate heart and lung function to undergo lung cancer surgery safely. Doctors assess these capacities before recommending surgery.
Lung cancer tumors develop from clumps of cancer cells, and in early stage lung cancer, there are fewer tumors. By removing these tumors, surgeons can sometimes prevent tumors from developing further.
Doctors have developed two principal methods for accessing lung cancer tumors:
The incision travels through skin, muscle, and lung tissue. In some cases, surgeons may detach a rib from the breastbone before spreading that rib aside. This improves the surgeon’s access to the lungs.
Minimally invasive surgery
- Video-assisted thoracic surgery (VATS): Surgeons operate using a thoracoscope — a small, flexible tube containing a light and video camera. It allows for greater surgical precision.
- Robot-assisted thoracic surgery (RATS): Surgeons use a thoracoscope alongside a robotic system. Images from the thoracoscope allow the surgeon to operate by controlling robotic arms.
There is mounting evidence that minimally invasive surgeries work well. For example, a 2018 study in the
Types of lung cancer surgery differ in how much lung tissue surgeons remove. The
- Pneumonectomy: Surgeons remove an entire lung. This may be necessary if the tumor is toward the center of the chest.
- Lobectomy: A person’s lungs comprise five lobes. In a lobectomy, surgeons remove a tumor-containing lobe. This is the ideal form of lung cancer surgery. It preserves much lung function while potentially removing large swathes of cancer cells.
- Segmentectomy or wedge resection: Surgeons remove only parts of a lobe. This surgery can be helpful for people without much lung function, as these individuals may be unable to withstand a lobectomy.
- Sleeve resection: If a tumor is in a large airway in the lungs, surgeons cut out the affected section of the airway and join the two open ends together.
In any lung cancer operation, surgeons may also remove nearby lymph nodes. A healthcare professional can then analyze them in a laboratory to determine whether the cancer has spread.
Lung cancer surgery is a major procedure that carries certain risks, even when surgeons use minimally invasive techniques. According to the
- excessive bleeding
- formation of blood clots in the legs or lungs
- negative reactions to anesthesia
People may wish to talk with a doctor about the benefits and drawbacks of surgery in their particular case. It may be helpful to discuss the following issues:
- whether surgery could cure the lung cancer
- which method of lung cancer surgery would be available and appropriate
- what the possible risks might be
- the cost of surgery
- whether Medicare or health insurance may cover the cost
Doctors should also provide information about the risks and benefits of nonsurgical treatments.
Lung cancer surgery aims to remove lung tumors. In some cases, this can completely cure early stage lung cancers.
To access the lungs, surgeons may create a large incision between the ribs in a thoracotomy. Surgeons also use minimally invasive methods, which can be equally effective and easier to tolerate.
During lung cancer surgery, surgeons might remove an entire lung. Ideally, however, they remove a lobe. In some cases, surgeons only remove part of a lobe or a section of a large airway in the lung.
Surgery has risks, including excessive bleeding, infections, and blood clots. People with lung cancer must balance these risks against the potential benefits of surgery.