Lung cancer (LC) is treatable as long as the disease is detected early enough. As the cancerous cells spread beyond the lungs to other areas of your body, the condition becomes systemic. At late stages, it becomes more difficult to treat successfully.
Treatment for LC is typically done through chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and surgery. The form of treatment used is dependent on the location of the tumor and how far the abnormal growth has spread. Surgery involves the removal of a portion of the lung, or the entire organ. This latter operation is called a pneumonectomy.
This article will provide an introduction to the procedure, including how your doctor decides when it is necessary. We’ll also describe the steps involved with preparing you for the operation as well as what occurs during surgery.
Deciding When A Pneumonectomy Is Appropriate
Because this approach requires the removal of an entire lung, your physician will want to ensure your body will be able to tolerate its loss. The function of your healthy lung must be sufficient in order to compensate.
Pneumonectomies are done to resolve non-small cell lung cancer when the disease has spread beyond a single lobe. This can occur if the growth is large, or has simply crossed from one lobe into another. In such cases, a lobectomy cannot remove the entire portion of cancerous tissue. The entire organ must be extracted.
Preparation For Surgery
Several days prior to undergoing a pneumonectomy, your doctor will order a series of tests. There are multiple purposes for these tests. First, as noted earlier, your physician will want to make certain you can survive without the affected lung. Second, he or she will want to verify the cancer has not metastasized to other areas in your body (e.g. brain, liver, bones, etc.). Surgery is rarely the initial form of treatment when LC has spread that far.
If you’re taking anticoagulants or other medications that increase the chances of bleeding, your doctor will suggest stopping them. Smoking, too, is discouraged in the days leading up to the operation.
You’ll be asked to avoid eating and drinking during the evening prior to undergoing surgery. The following morning, you’ll be connected to a heart monitor and other equipment so the surgical team can monitor your vital signs. Once you have signed the consent form, the surgeon will prepare to perform the procedure.
The Procedure – Step By Step
A general anesthesia is administered by the surgical facility’s anesthesiologist. Once you have fallen asleep, a tube is inserted into your mouth and passed down your esophagus. The purpose of this tube is to help you breath during the operation.
The surgeon will make an incision into the side of your chest that houses the diseased lung. Once this incision has been made, your ribs will be separated in order to provide access. In some cases, the surgeon will cut away and remove a portion of the rib to gain more working space.
Once your ribs have been separated, the affected lung is collapsed. The arteries that feed blood to the organ are tied off, as is the bronchus. Once these paths have been closed, the surgeon will sever the diseased lung’s connections and remove the organ through the incision. After he or she verifies there is no bleeding, the entry site is closed.
Recovery Following A Pneumonectomy
Immediately following the pneumonectomy, you’ll be transferred to the surgical facility’s ICU. Most patients can be transferred to a standard recovery room the next day; some will need to spend several days in the ICU. Over the following seven to ten days, the nurses and hospital staff will work to encourage your activity. This improves your strength and lowers the likelihood of clotting. You will eventually be released from the facility to complete your recovery at home.
Even though a pneumonectomy has traditionally been an invasive procedure for addressing lung cancer, surgeons are beginning to use minimally invasive techniques. These techniques lower the risk of infection while shortening the patient’s recovery time. Ask your doctor whether this approach is available and suitable for your condition.