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Lung Surgery Helps, but Doesn't Cure Emphysema

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The patients were eligible for the surgery if they had areas in their lungs that could be targeted for removal because other areas were less damaged. Typically, these target sites were in the upper lobes of the lungs. The patients had no other major health problems, such as significant coronary artery disease, any cancers that would lead to death within six months, or imbalances of carbon dioxide and oxygen in their blood.

The questionnaire addressed the patients' perception of their overall physical function and quality of life. The highest possible total score was 100; the average score in the general population was 50. Prior to surgery, patients had an average score of 28. By the study's end, the average score was 40, a significant improvement.

"[Approximately] three-quarters of all patients had improved ... scores," the authors write. Yusen tells WebMD that typically in that period of time, patients with end-stage emphysema would be expected to report a deterioration of their condition.

Of these patients, 94% survived the surgery, and 71% were still alive five years later. "Obviously, this is serious surgery, but the outcomes are good for major chest surgery on patients with serious disease," Yusen tells WebMD. "The five-year survival rates are better than we would expect for people with severe emphysema who are getting medical therapy."

"I'm encouraged by these results," Mitchell Horowitz, MD, tells WebMD in an interview seeking objective comment on the findings. "I'm confident that further studies will substantiate Dr. Yusen's findings on this procedure's value." He is a pulmonary and critical care physician in Athens, Penn.

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