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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 the heart.

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 cases.

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