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Doctor reviewing chest x-ray

A pneumonectomy is a type of surgery performed to remove an entire lung. This approach is sometimes recommended for non-small cell lung cancer treatment, particularly if a tumor is situated in the middle of a lung, the cancer has affected a significant portion of the pulmonary artery or airways, and the cancer could not be removed through a less extensive procedure.

Is it possible to live normally with one lung?

After one lung is removed, the remaining lung can usually take in enough oxygen and remove enough carbon dioxide to provide sufficient respiratory function. The opposite lung may also expand and shift the heart toward the empty chest cavity to decrease the space in the empty chest cavity. However, a pneumonectomy will decrease a patient’s breathing capacity by approximately one half. Therefore, while the patient will typically be able to perform most routine, everyday tasks, he or she may be unable to exercise as strenuously as an individual who has two healthy lungs.

What does pneumonectomy surgery involve?

A pneumonectomy is generally performed using a thoracotomy, which involves making an incision in the chest wall. Through the incision, the surgeon can access and remove a cancerous lung along with some nearby tissues and structures, if necessary.

The two main types of pneumonectomy performed for non-small cell lung cancer treatment are:

  • Traditional pneumonectomy – A single lung is removed in its entirety.
  • Extrapleural pneumonectomy – An entire lung is removed along with a portion of the diaphragm, a portion of the sac that covers the heart (pericardium) and the membrane that lines the inside of the chest (pleura).

Because a pneumonectomy is a technically complex procedure, it is important to seek treatment at a high-volume cancer center such as Moffitt Cancer Center. With extensive experience, our thoracic surgical oncologists have a thorough understanding of the unique challenges of extensive lung cancer surgery. In some cases, we are able to spare one of the lobes of the lung by performing a sleeve lobectomy, which removes less lung than a pneumonectomy. Additionally, our team of supportive care professionals is available to our patients throughout the recovery process to help them achieve the best possible outcome and quality of life.

Medically reviewed by Dr. Eric Toloza

If you’d like more information about pneumonectomy surgery, you can request a consultation with a lung cancer specialist at Moffitt by calling 1-888-663-3488 or completing our new patient registration form online. We do not require referrals.