When lung cancer is discovered in an individual the primary means of treatment will be resection, especially if the tumor is at stage one. Traditional surgery to remove all or part of the lung will involve making a cut on one side of the chest. This procedure is called a thoracotomy. Any surgery that uses this approach will avoid areas of the chest that contain the heart or are close to the spinal cord.
There are several different types of lung surgeries which can include a wedge and resection where the surgeon removes a small wedge shaped piece of the lung that contains the lung cancer as well as a predetermined margin of healthy tissue. This is more likely to be done when lung function would be decreased too much by removing an entire lobe of the lung. When using this method the individuals will find that the risk of lung cancer coming back is higher.
Another surgical technique is a lobectomy. In every person the right lung has a three lobes and the left lung has two lobes. During a lobectomy the surgeon will remove one entire lobe of the lung that contains the cancer. In an individual who has no lung function compromise they are able to successfully function with only three lobes. Thus removing all of one lobe will not compromise the majority of patients.
A third type of lung surgery is a pneumonectomy. During this procedure the surgeon will remove the entire lung that contains the cancer. A pneumonectomy is done only if it is absolutely necessary because it will greatly reduce the overall function of the lungs and thus negatively impact the ability of a person to perform daily living skills.
Prior to the procedure the surgeon may recommend a video assisted thoracoscopic surgery. During this procedure the surgeon will insert a long, thin tube with a camera attachment and small surgical instruments into the chest. This will enable the surgeon to confirm the diagnosis of lung cancer, make a better estimation as to the location, and biopsy lymph nodes in the center of the chest.
At this time cryosurgery, also called cryoablation, is experimental and being used only in clinical trials. During this procedure the surgeon will freeze the tumor cells and kill it while maintaining the integrity of the lungs. Another option is laser therapy which uses a narrow beam of intense light to destroy the cancer cells and essentially cut them away from healthy tissue. Laser therapy however, is usually used only as paliative care to remove tumors that block the airway and not as a cure or treatment for lung cancer.
Before deciding upon a surgical procedure which will best suit the individual’s specific needs the surgeon will evaluate lung function, prior medical history, overall health and current extent of the lung cancer. Individuals who are being considered for surgery should also investigate the options for themselves and be involved in the decision-making with their healthcare practitioner.