Surgical Options in the Treatment of Lung Cancer

Patients who have been diagnosed with lung cancer have a number of treatment options available depending on the type and stage of the disease. Options include chemotherapy, radiation treatment and of course, surgical intervention. It is usual for patients to receive all three treatment regimes as part of their oncology therapy.

Surgery is indicated when in the early stages of the disease as the tumor is confined to a relatively small area and has not spread t other parts of the body. The removal of the tumor is known as a “resection” or you may hear the tumor as being “resectable”. In later stages of the disease, surgery is not usually as beneficial as chemotherapy or radiation treatment in tackling the disease, though “palliative surgery” may be advisable to provide relief for end-stage (Stage IV) lung cancer.

Surgery is not likely to be beneficial in treating the disease when it has spread to the lungs from another part of the body (referred to as “metastasized”), unless the cancer is non-aggressive and the tumor is not large.

Where surgery may be beneficial in curing the disease there are two types of surgical intervention which may take place:

Minimally invasive surgery; and
Traditional open surgery

Minimally Invasive Surgery

This involves the surgeon making two small incisions between the ribs. Each of the incisions are typically an inch or so, but this provides enough room for a skilled surgeon to operate without the need for rib spreading.

In the upper incision, a camera is inserted which relays a high-definition television picture which is used to guide the surgeon as they operate through the second lower incision. This type of surgery is also sometimes referred to as Video Assisted Thoracic Surgery or VATS.

VATS has several advantages for patients whose lung cancer is susceptible to treatment using this technique. There are fewer complications that can arise, while the recovery time and stay in hospital are significantly reduced and the patient experiences much less pain due to the ribs not being spread. Minimally invasive surgery allows patients with early stage lung cancer to return to enjoying a high quality standard of life. Where chemotherapy is required after the operation, the length of treatment is reduced and stands a greater chance of success because it may be initiated much sooner than the alternatives.

Typically, a patient is able to stand up and walk around within two hours of surgery and is usually released from hospital within a day or two.

Traditional Open Chest Surgery

Patients may not be a suitable candidate for minimally invasive surgery, usually associated with anatomical reasons or location of the tumor and stage of the disease. Traditional open surgery involves an incision in the patient’s side and the spreading of the ribs to provide the surgeon with access to the tumor.

Palliative Surgery

Palliative surgery is used to make a patient more comfortable during the end-stages of the disease when the condition has become incurable. For instance, the tumor may need to be removed because it is causing an obstruction of the airway.

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