Types of Lung Cancer Surgery

What are Your Options for Lung Cancer Surgery?

Operating on Lung Cancer
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Has your doctor told you to think about the types of lung cancer surgery available? When lung cancer is caught early, surgery, with or without chemotherapy and radiation, can offer the chance for a cure. Surgery is considered primarily for non-small cell lung cancer, with surgery for small cell lung cancer usually reserved for very early cancers. What type of lung cancer surgery your doctor recommends will depend on:

  • The location of your tumor.
  • The size of your tumor.
  • Whether or not your tumor has spread to nearby tissues.
  • Your general state of health.
  • How well your lungs are functioning prior to surgery.

Types of Lung Cancer Surgery

The types of lung cancer surgery are listed below. In cases when a lobe or part of a lobe are to be removed there are additional options as to the method in which the surgery will be done including:

  • Thoracotomy - In a thoracotomy, a large incision is made down through tissues to obtain access to a cancerous tumor. This is the traditional form of surgery done for many cancers.
  • Video-assisted thoracoscopic surgery - In a VATS procedure, small incisions are made in the chest and access to the lungs is made through the use of a camera and special instruments without opening the chest as in a thoracotomy.

Wedge Resection (Segmental Resection)

A wedge resection removes the portion of your lung that includes the tumor, and some surrounding tissue. It is most commonly done when a tumor is caught very early, or if surgery that is more extensive would interfere too much with your breathing. The chance that your cancer will return after this type of surgery is somewhat higher than with the other types of surgery. Learn more about wedge resection lung cancer surgery.


A lobectomy is the removal of a lobe of the lungs. The right lung has 3 lobes and the left lung has 2 lobes. A “bi-lobectomy” refers the removal of 2 lobes. This is the most common surgical procedure done to treat lung cancer. Learn More About Lobectomy


A pneumonectomy involves the removal of an entire lung, and can result in a significant loss of lung function. Despite this, many individuals with good lung function prior to surgery, tolerate living with one lung quite well. A pneumonectomy is considered if a tumor is too large to be removed by the other methods available, or if the tumor is located in a more central location in the lung. Learn More About Pneumonectomy

Alternatives to Lung Cancer Surgery

Most often, lung cancer surgery offers the best chance for a cure. Yet for some people who have early stage lung cancer which is not operable, or for those who would not do well with surgery do to the presence of other conditions, stereotactic body radiotherapy may be used as an alternative to surgery. Stereotactic body radiotherapy (SBRT) is a radiation procedure in which high doses of radiation are delivered to a small area of tissue. In some studies with early stage lung cancer. SBRT has worked in a comparable way to surgery in removing tumors.

Lung Transplant

A unilateral or bilateral lung transplant is rarely used as a surgery for lung cancer, the reason being that many lung cancers have spread beyond the lungs at the time of diagnosis. This procedure may be done for some select people with a form of lung cancer known as bronchioloalveolar carcinoma (BAC) or for a very early lung cancer combined with end-stage lung disease. 

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