When cancerous cells are identified within your lungs, a surgeon will try to remove the tumor through surgery. Depending on the stage of the disease and its location, the surgeon will perform a wedge resection, lobectomy (removal of a lobe), or pneumonectomy (removal of the entire lung).
Traditionally, these surgeries were accomplished through thoracotomy – or, opening the chest. The doctor would make a long incision (up to ten inches) beginning in the back and crossing over to the patient’s side. The ribs needed to be removed or spread in order to provide the surgeon access to the site. The process is physically traumatic and requires a lengthy recovery time.
Over the past decade, surgeons have increasingly relied on minimally invasive techniques to perform the same operations. While a pneumonectomy still requires open-chest surgery, wedge resections and lobectomies can be accomplished through video-assisted thoracic surgery (VATS). Below, we’ll describe the aftereffects of using VATS to treat lung cancer.
Same Operation, Different Approach
It’s important to realize that surgeons who use VATS are performing the same operations that were traditionally accomplished by opening the chest. The difference is, they are using much smaller incisions to access the site and remove diseased tissue. A camera is inserted through one of the incisions while surgical tools are inserted through the others. The doctor inspects the site on a video monitor while guiding the tools to perform the resection or lobectomy. There is no need to spread the ribs or cut through the muscles.
Advantages Of Minimally Invasive Wedge Resections And Lobectomies
There are several benefits to using VATS because the procedure is far less traumatic to the patient’s body. There is less chance of bleeding and infection that is characteristic of open-chest surgery. There is also less postoperative pain for the patient as she recovers. Patients who undergo lung cancer VATS surgery will often enjoy better lung function and more stamina than those who undergo traditional thoracotomy. And because VATS resections and lobectomies do not require cutting through muscles and bone in order to reach the diseased lung tissue, shoulder function is less impaired.
Thoracic surgery usually requires up to eight weeks of recovery time. Patients will stay in the hospital for up to ten days before being released and returning home. Patients who undergo minimally invasive lung cancer surgery can often be released from the hospital after one or two days. Depending on their preoperative condition, many resume their normal daily activities within seven to ten days.
The minimally invasive procedure requires more time to perform than traditional thoracotomy. Surgeons take great care to move muscles out of the way rather than cutting through them to gain access to the cancerous lung tissue. While VATS is currently limited to wedge resections and lobectomies, it may one day be possible to use similar technology in performing pneumonectomies.