Like many other cancers, lung cancer is generally treated with some combination of surgery, chemotherapy and radiation therapy. Surgical approaches are most likely to resolve the cancer when it is caught early on in its progression. Later stage cancers are more likely to have metastasized and therefore require more globally acting treatments (such as chemotherapy and radiation therapy). Common surgical techniques for addressing lung cancer involve removing cancerous portions of the lung and are described below:
- Lobectomy. Lobectomy involves the removal of a section of the lung (lobe) containing cancer cells. The patient is completely asleep with general anesthesia and feels no pain during the surgery. When the patient is fully asleep, surgeons make an incision in the chest and separate the ribs so as to expose and remove the cancerous section of the lung. The normal hospital stay after surgery is roughly a week. Deep breathing exercises, which help to prevent infection and pneumonia, are taught during recuperation. Normally, patients fully recover within a few months.
- Wedge Resection. A wedge resection is a similar surgery to lobectomy, differing primarily in the amount of tissue removed. In wedge resection, only a portion of lung section is removed, while in lobectomy an entire lung section is removed.
- Pneumonectomy. This procedure is fundamentally the same as the lobectomy and wedge resection surgeries except that an entire lung is removed in a pneumonectomy.
Whatever form they may take, lung surgeries are major surgeries that require substantial convalescence. Most people recover from their lung cancer surgery within three months.
The majority of lung cancer cases do not get diagnosed until the cancer has reached an advanced stage where surgery alone is not a sufficient treatment. Radiation and chemotherapy treatments are useful for treating the whole body or large areas of the body when the cancer has spread widely. Chemotherapy and radiation therapy can often help alleviate some of the symptoms of the cancer but may not produce a cure. For more information see the document providing an overview of cancer treatments.