Surgery is the preferred treatment for patients with early stage non-small cell lung cancer or NSCLC. Unfortunately, most patients who have advanced or metastatic disease are not suitable for surgery.
People who have NSCLC that has not spread can usually tolerate surgery provided they have adequate lung function.
A portion of a lobe, a full lobe, or an entire lung may be removed. The extent of removal depends on the size of the tumor, its location, and how far it has spread.
A technique called cryosurgery is sometimes used for NSCLC. In cryosurgery, the tumor is frozen, which destroys it. This treatment is mainly reserved for patients who can’t tolerate traditional surgery.
Despite complete surgical removal, a large proportion of patients with NSCLC have recurrence of cancer because most of the time, the cancer is advanced by the time they are diagnosed.
Surgery is not widely used in small cell lung cancer (SCLC). Because SCLC spreads widely and rapidly through the body, removing it all by surgery is usually impossible.
An operation for lung cancer is major surgery. Many people experience pain, weakness, fatigue, and shortness of breath after surgery. Most have problems moving around, coughing, and breathing deeply. The recovery period can be several weeks or even months.
Video-assisted thoracoscopic surgery (VATS) is a less invasive type of surgery that is used when possible for the treatment of early stage NSCLC. Recovery from this type of surgery is usually quicker than with traditional surgery.