About Lung Cancer
The most common type of cancer worldwide, lung cancer occurs in two forms.
Non-small cell cancer: The more common of the two main types of lung cancer, non-small cell lung cancer grows and spreads more slowly than small cell cancer. For this type of lung cancer, surgery often offers the best treatment, especially if the cancer has not spread beyond the chest.
Small cell cancer: This less common type of lung cancer tends to grow rapidly, spreading quickly to other parts of the body. For this type of cancer, a range of therapies, including chemotherapy, are often recommended.
Mesothelioma is a much less common cancer that grows in the pleura, which is the membrane that encloses the lung and lines the chest cavity. Most cases of mesothelioma are the result of asbestos exposure. It is sometimes referred to as a form of lung cancer, and surgical removal of mesothelioma is possible in early-stage-diagnosed patients.
A Patient’s Perspective
- Lung cancer develops when abnormal cells in the lungs divide and grow uncontrollably
- These abnormal cells can grow into a mass, called a tumor
- If the abnormal cells invade lung tissue, spread to organs outside of the lungs, or have the potential to regrow after they are removed, the cells are called malignant or cancerous.
- Lung cancer often causes few, if any symptoms until it has progressed.
- Late-stage symptoms include cough, especially one that brings up blood, shortness of breath, fatigue, chest pain and weight loss.
- Fluid in the lungs (pleural effusion) is another symptom of advanced lung cancer.
- Surgery can remove tumors as well the tissue around the tumors
- Chemotherapy drugs are used to kill rapidly growing cells that have spread beyond the lungs or that can’t be removed surgically. These drugs can be injected, given through a catheter, or taken orally.
- Targeted agents are drugs that act against specific weaknesses in cancer cells.
- Radiation therapy uses high-energy X-rays to kill cancer cells.
About Lung Cancer Surgery
Surgery removes cancerous masses along with adjacent tissue in order to provide the greatest likelihood that no cancer cells are left behind. Depending on the size, number and locations of a patient’s tumors, thoracic surgeons may use one or more of the following procedures:
- Wedge resection. The surgeon removes the tumor and area of the lung lobe immediately around it, creating a small wedge or pie-shape. Then the surgeon repairs the wall of the lung. This approach preserves the function of the lung lobe from which the wedge is removed.
- Segmental resection. The surgeon removes the tumor and the lung structures next to it in a larger portion of a lobe.
- Lobectomy. The surgeon removes an entire lobe of one of the lungs that contains the cancerous tissue. The remaining lobe of the lung preserves lung function.
- Pneumonectomy. In this operation, which is only performed when essential, the surgeon removes the entire left or right lung.
How We Can Help
Our thoracic surgeons work closely with medical and radiation oncologists, and help to manage the radiologic and endoscopic studies that hone in on a precise diagnosis, including the size and location of lung-tumor growth. They help to coordinate and sequence the radiation or chemotherapy, often combined with surgery, for lung cancer treatment. Most commonly, the team will employ these other types of treatments as a preparation for surgery, which can be the most effective treatment step available.
If surgery is needed, our specialists are experienced both in traditional techniques as well as the most advanced, minimally invasive approaches. Whenever possible, our surgeons operate on the lungs through several small incisions in the chest. During these advanced procedures, surgeons insert a special endoscope called a thoracoscope into the chest to see the surgical area. The team views images from the thoracoscope on a video screen in the operating room. The specialists can inspect and biopsy the cancerous areas to refine diagnosis before removing the cancerous tissue. Thoracoscopic procedures require far less manipulation of the ribcage and cutting of muscle tissue than does conventional surgery, helping to minimize a patient’s recovery time.