The three types of lung cancer surgery
Lung cancer surgery is one possible treatment option adopted for early
and middle stages of the cancer. In fact, surgery may be the single most
effective treatment available for lung cancer from stages 1 to 3A.
This applies specifically to non small cell lung cancers. Unfortunately,
lung cancer surgery is of limited use in the case of small cell lung
cancers. This is because these cancers tend to spread at an early stage.
However, there are cases where early stage, limited small cell lung
cancers are treated with surgery. This is rare because this type of cancer
is usually not detected early enough.
Lung surgery is formally called thoracotomy. All or part of a lung is
removed in surgery in a bid to eliminate the cancer. Thoracotomy involves
making an incision on the side of the chest. How much lung tissue is
removed depends on how much the cancer has spread. This procedure usually
avoids tissue removal in the immediate vicinity of critical organs like
Different types of lung cancer surgery are performed depending on the
patient's specific situation.
In some cases, the surgeon will do a lobectomy where an entire lobe of the
lung containing the cancer is removed. The lung is divided into structures
called lobes, with the left lung having two lobes and the right lung,
three. The lungs are perfectly capable of functioning normally even if a
lobe is removed, as is demonstrated in the case of thousands of lung
cancer patients who have undergone a lobectomy.
A second type of lung cancer surgery is called segmentectomy or wedge
resection. This is called so because instead of removing an entire lobe,
only a wedge shaped portion of the lung is removed. The surgeon usually
cuts out both the part affected by cancer and a small amount of healthy
tissue around it.
This type of surgery is done in cases where the patient would lose too
much lung function if an entire lobe were to be removed. Unfortunately,
the risks of the cancer making a reappearance following the surgery are
higher with a wedge section as compared to a lobectomy.
A third - and much more drastic - type of lung cancer surgery involves
removal of an entire lung. This is called a pneumonectomy. It is not done
unless it has become absolutely necessary. Removal of a whole lung will
always result in a considerable reduction in lung function. It will impair
the patient's ability to lead a normal life, at least to some extent.
Lung cancer surgery does carry some risks. As with all surgeries, there is
always a (small) risk of infection. Because of the incision made in the
chest wall, there is the possibility of ongoing pain being experienced.
The pain should usually subside after a few weeks or at most, months, but
in some cases, it does not.
Apart from the above, the lung may develop an air leak that does not close
with time. Bleeding is also a risk factor.
If you are considering lung cancer surgery, have detailed discussions with
your doctor before consenting to it. If necessary, get a second opinion
before going ahead. But remember, surgery may be the best option in many