Lung surgery can involve the removal of a small section, a large section, or even an entire lung to treat lung cancer. Each type of lung surgery has risks and benefits, but the ultimate goal is to cure your lung cancer.
There are a few ways to go in and surgically remove the cancer, but how it’s done depends on the stage of the cancer and size of the tumor. For example, says Dr. Moffatt-Bruce, people with small tumors or whose tumors are close to the edge of the lung may be good candidates for minimally invasive lung cancer surgery. Others require a larger incision and spreading the ribs (a thoracotomy) to reach the lungs and remove the tumor. Here are some of the main types of lung cancer surgery:
- Wedge resection or segmentectomy. These types of lung cancer surgery remove only a portion of a lobe of the lung. They are generally performed if the patient cannot tolerate a lobectomy or pneumonectomy (see below), and are most effective in the earlier stages of lung cancer. The benefit is removing as much of the cancer as possible from the lung, while still leaving as much healthy lung as possible. The risk is that there is still lung tissue left behind that could contain or develop cancerous cells.
- Lobectomy. This type of lung surgery removes one lobe, or section, of the lung. It’s the most commonly performed type of lung surgery for lung cancer. When two lobes are removed, it’s called a bilobectomy. It’s beneficial when the cancer is confined to only one portion, or lobe, of the lung. The benefit is removing as much of the cancer as possible, while still leaving as much healthy lung as possible. The risk, as with wedge resection or segmentectomy, is that there is still lung tissue left behind that could develop cancerous cells.
- Pneumonectomy. This lung surgery involves removing one entire lung, and is a beneficial surgery when the tumor is centralized in the lung and overlaps into multiple lobes. You can breathe and function well with only one lung.
“We try to remove all of the cancer,” says Moffatt-Bruce. It’s not a question of weighing pros and cons of particular types. “You do whatever is required to totally remove [the cancer],” she says, as long as it’s safe and appropriate for the patient.
For those who can’t withstand lung cancer surgery, radiation therapy, radiofrequency ablation, and photodynamic therapy are other available treatment options.