What Is Minimally Invasive Lung Cancer Surgery?

By Brian Rodane

Until recently, most surgical procedures that were performed to eliminate lung cancer (LC) required the surgeon to make a long incision in the patient's chest. The ribs were either removed or spread apart in order that the surgeon could gain access to the affected site. While that strategy is still used for some types of lung cancer surgery, there are minimally invasive techniques that are being employed more regularly.

In this article, we'll provide an overview of the three types of surgeries that doctors perform on patients who are suffering from LC. We'll also describe how new technology and tools are making it unnecessary to open the patient's chest.

Types Of Surgical Procedures

If the disease is still in its early stages (stages I or II) and has not spread to other sites, a doctor will normally perform a wedge resection. This is a procedure in which the tumor is removed along with a small portion of surrounding tissue. Approximately one in four diagnosed cases can be treated with a wedge resection. It's worth noting that this strategy does not entirely preclude a recurrence of cancerous cells.

If the disease has spread within the lung, but is still contained within it (that is, it has not fully metastasized), a lobectomy can be performed. The doctor will remove an entire lobe. If more than one lobe is affected, the doctor may perform a pneumonectomy. This is the removal of the entire lung.

A pneumonectomy still often requires opening the chest cavity because the surgical team must have complete access to the site in order to remove the organ. A thoracoscopic lobectomy can be performed without the need to spread the patient's ribcage. This is a minimally invasive procedure during which a surgeon makes several small incisions into the patient's chest. He will then use robotic arms appended with surgical instruments to access the site and remove the affected lobe. The same strategy can be used to perform a wedge resection.

This minimally invasive lung cancer surgical procedure offers far more accuracy than can be achieved by opening the chest.

Other Forms Of Treatment

If the disease has metastasized, surgery will not be sufficient to eliminate it. Your doctor may suggest chemotherapy or radiation therapy, either as a primary treatment path or as an adjunct path. Both can be used for small-cell and non-small cell LC. Chemotherapy uses specific drugs (administered in pill form, intravenously, or both) to kill cancerous cells. Radiation therapy uses high-intensity beams to accomplish the same goal. For late-stage cases of LC, a combination of all three (surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy) may be necessary.

Treating lung cancer surgically is no longer limited to opening the patient's chest. A growing number of surgeons are proving that minimally invasive procedures are safer, more effective, and can dramatically reduce the patient's recovery time. - 30540

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