Surgery for Lung Cancer
Lung cancer surgery may be recommended for treating both small cell and non-small cell lung cancers, although it is usually most appropriate for tumors that have not spread outside of their original locations. In many cases, a tumor is removed along with some nearby lymph nodes and healthy tissues, although each patient’s surgical plan will depend on the size and location of the tumor, as well as other individualized factors. And, although the ultimate goal of surgery is to remove as much of the tumor as possible, some cancerous cells may still remain in the body after an operation. Therefore, lung cancer surgery may be followed by additional treatments such as chemotherapy and radiation therapy.
Types of lung cancer surgery
When performing lung cancer surgery, a surgeon may use one of two main techniques: a traditional (open) approach or a minimally invasive (closed) approach. As modern medicine continues to advance, many patients are benefiting from minimally invasive surgical procedures that did not exist just a few decades ago. One of the latest advances is the da Vinci® Surgical System, which Moffitt’s surgeons use to achieve unprecedented levels of surgical precision and control. Depending on the location, size and type of your tumor, part or all of the affected lung may be surgically removed. Some of the most common types of lung cancer surgery include:
- Wedge resection – Your surgeon will remove a wedge-shaped section of lung tissue that contains the tumor. This procedure may be suitable for you if your surgeon determines that your lung function would be significantly impacted if a larger portion of lung tissue were to be removed.
- Segmentectomy – In this type of surgery, a segment of cancerous lung tissue that is larger than a wedge but smaller than an entire lobe is removed. If you have a health condition that would preclude a safe lobectomy, a segmentectomy may be an appropriate option to preserve your lung function.
- Lobectomy – Your surgeon will remove an entire lobe of the affected lung, along with some of the nearby lymph nodes. By eliminating the entire drainage path for tumor cells, this procedure can also help reduce the chance of a recurrence.
- Pneumonectomy – The entire cancerous lung is removed in this type of surgery. This approach may be necessary if the tumor is situated close to your heart and involves major blood vessels.
Additional types of surgery may be performed in some cases, either on their own or in conjunction with one of the four types listed above. These can include:
- A sleeve resection
- Surgical resection of mediastinal masses
- Complex lung/chest wall and vertebral resections and reconstruction for superior sulcus (Pancoast) tumors
- Resection of the chest wall and sternal masses and chest wall/sternal reconstruction
- Resection of pulmonary metastases
- Video-assisted thoracic surgery (VATS) or robotic-assisted lung surgery
- Extrapleural pneumonectomy
- Pleurectomy and pleurectomy/decortication
- Surgical management of pleural and pericardial effusions (i.e., pleurodesis)
- PleurX catheter placement for pleural effusions
- Endobronchial navigation bronchoscopy (ENB)
- Tracheal resection
Risks and side effects of lung cancer surgery
The risks and side effects of lung cancer surgery can vary depending on several factors, such as the type of surgery being performed and the overall health of the patient. Patients should speak with their doctor regarding risks for their specific procedure, but generally, some risks of lung surgery include reactions to anesthesia, excess bleeding, infection and pneumonia. Patients who are able to undergo VATS or robotic-assisted surgery typically experience less pain and shorter recovery times than those who have open surgery.
Recovering from lung cancer surgery
Lung cancer surgery is a major operation, and recovery can take weeks or months. After leaving the hospital, it’s crucial to have a plan for the recovery process. That may involve having family and friends to help out with household chores or making sure to take regular walks in the fresh air. You’ll also want to be aware of what to expect in the coming weeks as you recover. Here’s an overview of what you may experience after lung cancer surgery:
- Discomfort – In the first few days that follow your procedure, you may have some pain in the area around your incision, as well as in your chest and arm. Your surgeon can explain the best ways to control any discomfort. Some people are hesitant to take pain medications, but doing so can actually aid the recovery process, so it’s important to follow your surgeon’s instructions.
- Fatigue – You may feel weak, disoriented and tired after your lung cancer surgery. There are several possible reasons for this. First, you may already be dealing with less sleep due to presurgical anxiety. Second, you will probably be advised to fast before your procedure, which can cause drowsiness and muscle weakness. Third, you may be prescribed medications that can cause drowsiness as a potential side effect. And finally, your body may naturally trigger a fatigue response after an operation to encourage you to rest and heal.
- Breathing difficulties – As your body adjusts to its post-surgical state, you may find that you have trouble breathing. A physical therapist or respiratory therapist can explain how to perform some exercises to help you breathe easier.
- Constipation – Infrequent bowel movements and hard, dry stools are common side effects of certain pain medications. Plus, you may not be eating much or moving around immediately after your lung cancer surgery. Your physician can suggest ways to increase your dietary fiber and recommend stool softeners or stimulants to help you avoid becoming constipated.
Moffitt’s approach to lung cancer surgery
At Moffitt Cancer Center, every patient receives a highly individualized treatment plan and benefits from a number of expert opinions in one place. Every surgery for lung cancer is performed by a team of expert lung cancer surgeons, and a patient’s recovery can be enhanced through our wide variety of supportive care options. Additionally, surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy and clinical trials are all provided in a single, convenient location, so patients can access all of the latest treatment options without having to coordinate appointments at numerous clinics.
Referrals are not required to consult with the experts at Moffitt about lung cancer surgery. To learn more about your options, call 1-888-663-3488 or complete our new patient registration form online.