Conventional surgery for lung cancer calls for the surgeon, among many things, to make a 6-10 inch incision in the patient’s chest, and then intentionally fracture the patient’s ribs to gain access to the lung. Just the fracturing of the lungs can take 6 weeks for the patient to recover. Fortunately, more than a decade after it was created, a technique may begin to be widely used that would greatly cut back on post lung surgery trauma.
In a procedure called VATS, or visually-assisted thoracic surgery, the patient is limited to only 2-4 small incisions of fewer than 2 inches in conjunction with a mini camera mounted on thin tubes allowing doctors access to the lung with minimal damage. Moreover, the procedure does not require the patient to have their ribs broken to gain access to the lung. VATS can reduce recovery time for a patient to as low as 1 week although recovery time varies from patient to patient.
As of right now only 1 out of every 5 lobectomies, a procedure in which a portion of the lung is removed, done in the US are done through VATS, but many doctors expect that to rise. New surgeons are increasingly coming out of training with advanced VATS skills and understand the benefits of performing a VATS lobectomy in appropriate patients, said Dr. Bernard Park, a cardiothoracic surgeon specializing in lung cancer at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York.
The ideal candidate for minimally invasive surgery like VATS would be someone who detected the lung cancer in its early stages of development. Unfortunately, most lung cancer instances are still detected too late, as the disease has progressed and spread. As advances in testing and screening continue to progress, however, VATS would become a much more viable option for more cancer patients.