SCCA patients have surgery at University of Washington Medical Center (UWMC) with thoracic surgeons who are among the best in the country. Surgeons at UWMC do more lung operations than anywhere else in the Pacific Northwest. They also help diagnose and stage lung cancer and relieve symptoms of advanced disease.
Our surgeons have some of the most extensive experience in the world taking on the most complex cases, including patients who might be told elsewhere that they cannot have surgery or surgery is too risky.
- For early-stage non-small cell lung cancer, surgery to remove the cancer may be an option. When it is an option, it provides the best chance for a cure.
- For small cell lung cancer, doctors rarely use surgery because by the time the disease is found it has often spread too far for surgery to be effective.
Any surgery your team recommends will depend on the type and stage of your disease, your general health and your lung function. Your surgeon will probably remove lymph nodes too to check them for signs of cancer.
Common surgical procedures for lung cancer
These surgeries are typically used to treat lung cancer.
- Lobectomy — removing a whole lobe (section) of the lung. This is the most common lung cancer surgery.
- Wedge resection or segmentectomy — removing part of a lobe of the lung. This is the second most common lung cancer surgery. It may be used for several reasons, including if you have compromised lung function, are too sick to undergo lobectomy or strongly prefer to preserve lung function.
- Pneumonectomy — removing the entire lung on the side of your body with the tumor. You may need this surgery due to the size or location of your cancer, although most experts look for ways to spare the lung using advanced surgical procedures.
Video-assisted thoracic surgery
Minimally invasive surgery called video-assisted thoracic surgery (VATS) may be an option if you have early-stage lung cancer.
Classically, surgeons make a 6- to 10-inch incision, cutting larger portions of muscles and spreading ribs to reach the tumor.
With VATS, surgeons make three to four small incisions about an inch long, cut less muscle and entirely avoid spreading ribs. They operate by inserting a camera through one incision and surgical instruments through the others.
People who have VATS may have less pain and a quicker recovery of function and quality life after leaving the hospital.
Advanced surgical and endoscopic procedures
Sometimes lung cancer is difficult to remove surgically because it involves the main air passages, major blood vessels, the rib cage or other important structures in the chest.
Procedures performed at UWMC for complex or advanced lung cancers include:
- Sleeve resection — used for cancer in the large airways (trachea or bronchi). The cancerous section of the airway is removed, and the remaining sections are sewn together.
- Carinal pneumonectomy — to remove the lung and the lower part of the trachea, where it branches toward that lung. The remaining trachea and lung airway are sewn together.
- Vascular reconstruction — to rebuild the pulmonary artery when the tumor involves this blood vessel as well as the airways. The goal is to remove the cancer entirely and save the lung, potentially avoiding a pneumonectomy.
- Chest-wall resection and reconstruction — to remove a tumor in the chest wall and reconstruct the chest.
- Stenting – to place a tube inside the airway to help open it, allowing patients to breathe easier.
- Tumor debulking – to remove a tumor piece by piece from inside the airway, allowing patients to breathe easier.