Thoracic Surgery

Thoracic (Lung) Surgery Overview

Lung cancer is the most common cancer in the world with 1.8 million new cases diagnosed in 2012 alone.109

For patients who have been diagnosed with lung cancer, treatment options vary by the stage of lung cancer. Depending on the stage, surgery may be a treatment option. If the cancer has not spread, the surgical removal of the cancerous tissue (resection) can be one of the most effective treatments.

The most common surgical procedures for the treatment of lung cancer are:

  • Wedge resection/segmentectomy – removal of a part of the lung lobe
  • Lobectomy – removal of one of the lobes of the lungs
  • Pneumonectomy – removal of the entire lung

Historically, surgeons have had to gain access to the lungs through a 6 to 10-inch open incision that wraps around the body from the front of the chest under the armpit toward the back. This is called a thoracotomy. The ribs and muscles are stretched apart to allow the surgeon to reach the lung. In some cases muscles must be cut, and nerves may be damaged in the process. Because of the trauma involved in gaining access to the diseased area, this type of surgery involves considerable postoperative pain, a 5 to 7-day hospital stay and a lengthy recovery period.

Today, a minimally invasive approach – video assisted thoracic surgery or VATS – is becoming the preferred approach for many thoracic surgeries because it causes less injury to the body and is just as effective as open surgery. During VATS, the surgeon makes several small incisions called ports, each less than one inch long. A miniature video camera is inserted through one of the ports and specialized instruments through the others. The surgeon then uses magnified images on a video monitor to guide these instruments in removing diseased tissue and repairing damage.

VATS can be used to take biopsies (tissue samples from the body) to determine the presence of lung disease. It can also be effective for removing diseased lung tissue (tumors) in the lungs or chest cavity.38 VATS may be appropriate when cancer is in an early stage (Stage 1 or Stage 2). Consult your physician to find out if VATS is appropriate for your condition.

Video assisted thoracic surgery (VATS) has the potential benefits of:*

  • Less pain
  • Faster recovery
  • Fewer overall complications35

Studies also have shown that VATS can result in fewer complications in patients with stage 1 non-small cell lung cancer, including:

  • Less blood loss35
  • Lower risk of overall postoperative complications35
  • Lower incidence of pulmonary complications35

Risks

There are risks with any surgery, such as adverse reactions to medications, problems with anesthesia, problems breathing, bleeding, blood clots, inadvertent injury to nearby organs and blood vessels, even death. Procedures that involve operating on structures in the chest area (thoracic surgery) have their own risks, including increased frequency of heart attacks, pneumonia, excessive fluid in the lungs (pulmonary edema), arrhythmias (irregular heartbeat), air leaks (in lung surgery), and respiratory distress syndrome. Patients should consult their physicians to determine if this procedure is appropriate for their condition.

Site References

  • * When compared to open thoracic surgery for patients with stage 1 non-small cell lung cancer.
  • Than patients who undergo open surgery.
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