Lung Resection

Treatment options for lung cancer

Treating lung cancer always begins with a discussion between you and your doctor. Your treatment will depend on the type and stage of your cancer and on other factors.


  • Chemotherapy uses drugs to kill cancer cells. Drugs for lung cancer are usually given intravenously.
  • The side effects depend mainly on which drugs you are given and how much. The most common side effects include infections, bruising or bleeding due to low levels of blood cells, hair loss, poor appetite, nausea and vomiting, diarrhea, or mouth and lip sores. Your healthcare team can prescribe medicine and suggest ways to help alleviate these side effects.
  • For more information on chemotherapy treatment and lung cancer, please visit the National Cancer Institute website.


  • Radiation therapy uses targeted, high-energy rays to destroy cancer cells. After surgery, radiation therapy can be used to destroy remaining cancer cells in the chest. In advanced stage lung cancer, radiation therapy may be used with chemotherapy.
  • Radiation therapy targeted to the chest may cause side effects such as sore throat, cough or shortness of breath. Your healthcare team can suggest ways to manage these side effects.
  • For more information on radiation treatment and lung cancer, please visit the National Cancer Institute website.

Surgical options

Wedge resection
When a surgeon removes a small piece, or "wedge," of a lung that contains the cancerous tissues, along with a portion of the surrounding healthy tissue. A wedge resection does not necessarily remove all of the cancer. It is a test performed to stage the level of cancer in the lung.
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When a larger "segment" containing cancerous tissue is removed from a lobe of the lung. The lungs are made up of five different lobes (two lobes on the left and three lobes on the right). When the cancer is small and localized within a lobe of the lung, a segmentectomy may be performed.
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When an entire lobe of a cancerous lung is removed. The lungs are made up of five different lobes (two lobes on the left and three lobes on the right). If one lobe is removed, the lungs continue to function with the remaining lobes.
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When one entire lung, right or left, is removed in order to treat the cancer. Since this procedure greatly reduces overall lung function, this surgery is only used when deemed absolutely necessary.
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There are risks with any surgery, some examples would be adverse reactions to medications, problems with anesthesia, problems breathing, bleeding, blood clots, inadvertent injury to nearby organs and blood vessels, even death. Procedures that involve operating on structures in the chest area have their own risks, including increased frequency of heart attacks, pneumonia, excessive fluid in the lungs (pulmonary edema), arrhythmias (irregular heartbeat), air leaks (in lung surgery), and respiratory distress syndrome.

This is a surgical procedure, so it always presents a variety of risks, up to and including death. Only the individual’s surgeon can make the ultimate decision as to which approach is right for each patient.

Different approaches for lung surgery

One key difference in how these surgeries can be performed is the way in which the surgeon gains "access" to the lungs.

In a traditional approach, called a thoracotomy, a long incision is made from front to back along one side of the chest. In order to view the lungs, the ribs are spread apart and, in some cases, a small piece of rib is removed. Performing an open procedure may allow your surgeon better access to the lung and tumor.

On the other hand, thoracoscopy or video-assisted thoracic surgery (VATS) requires only a few small incisions or ports. These ports allow the surgeon to insert specially designed surgical devices for removal of diseased tissue, fluid drainage, and repair of damaged areas. A small video camera called a thoracoscope is also inserted into one of the ports, allowing the surgeon to view the procedure on a video monitor. Viewing the operation this way allows the surgeon to magnify the image of the surgical target. With VATS procedure, the ribs are not spread and do not affect the nerves under the ribs. This minimally invasive procedure may offer benefits such as a lower risk of postoperative complications and pain, and a faster return to pre-operative activities.*

Site References

  • * In patients with clinical stage 1 non-small cell lung cancer undergoing lung lobectomy. 35
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