What is Lung Resection?

Lung resection is surgery performed to remove all or part of the lung, almost always in the treatment of cancer. While there are other conditions that may in certain cases benefit from removal of lung tissue (including tuberculosis, COPD, and some infections), this is rare.

The goal of lung resection is to remove diseased tissue and stop it from spreading. The amount of tissue removed depends on the diagnosis. Each lung has thin folds that divide the lung tissue into lobes. The right lung has three lobes and the left, which is slightly smaller to make room for the heart, has two. Each lobe is further divided by areas of connective tissue into small segments. Lung resection surgery is given different names depending on how much of the lung is removed. These include:

  • Wedge resection, removal of just the diseased area of the lung, including a small border of healthy tissue.
  • Segmental resection, also called segmentectomy, or the removal of the affected section of the lung.
  • Lobectomy, or removal of a lobe of the lung.
  • Sleeve resection, or removal of one or more lobes along with a portion of the bronchus, or airway.
  • Pneumonectomy, or removal of one entire lung.

Lung resection is often performed through a type of open-chest surgery called thoracotomy. The patient lies on his or her side and is put to sleep. An incision is made from the breastbone around to the back near the shoulder blade, and the diseased part of the lung is removed from between the ribs. In some cases, especially for wedge resection, a kind of minimally invasive surgery called video-assisted thoracoscopic surgery or VATS is used. VATS uses tiny, lighted instruments and several small incisions to access the lung and perform the needed surgery.

After a lung resection, you may need to stay in the hospital for several days. You may be given breathing exercises to do in order to prevent pneumonia and help your lung heal. It is common to have drainage tubes to remove excess fluid and air the first few days. You may feel breathless at first, but even with only one lung you will breathe normally after you recover.

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