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Posted: Monday, October 13, 2014

The benefits of minimally invasive lung cancer surgery

As with any cancer diagnosis, the first thought you may have after you’re told that you have lung cancer is “get it out of me,” and this instinct is quite accurate when considering chances for cure. According to the American Lung Association, lung cancer continues to present the leading cause of cancer deaths in the nation, with a death toll greater than the three next most common types of cancer combined. Statistically, the chances of curing lung cancer are approximately doubled when the tumor is able to be surgically removed (or resected) in its entirety, so long as there’s no evidence the cancer has spread to other organs or lymph nodes. And while chemotherapy or radiation may often be necessary, a patient’s outcome with lung cancer is uniformly improved if his or her therapy centers on an operation. Lung surgery is a major operation, but a less-invasive approach – the videoscopic assisted thoracoscopic surgery method (VATS) – has shown revolutionary improvements in recovery, pain and reduction of incision size. Perhaps most importantly, the VATS lobectomy (or resection) enables patients to recover their strength in order to start chemotherapy or radiation that may be required to fully treat their cancer.

Blount Memorial is the only hospital in the Knoxville area, and one of only 30 percent of hospitals nationwide, offering the true VATS lobectomy. Blount Memorial thoracic surgeon Dr. Jason Budde says anyone facing lung cancer should investigate the benefits of the minimally invasive VATS procedure. “VATS lung surgery provides a lot of common sense benefits for patients,” Budde said. “For starters, it uses smaller incisions that will be more cosmetically pleasing in the long run after surgery. The key benefit of making smaller incisions, though, is that, by doing so, the patient can avoid trauma to the ribs or muscles that can occur from more invasive surgeries. The smaller incisions also reduce pain, which can impact everything from your breathing to your chances of getting pneumonia, which obviously can affect your recovery,” he explained. “The minimally invasive procedure puts the patient a few steps ahead in their recovery simply because they have less pain,” he added.

However, Budde says most patients are more concerned about simply getting treatment than they are about how it’s done. “Patients who have cancer are very anxious and scared,” he said. “They place a lot of trust in our team to walk them through the best treatments for them, whether it’s chemotherapy, radiation, surgery or all three. The surgical approach we take is just as important to consider. Fortunately, important educational information is very accessible to patients these days. They should take full advantage of the opportunity to research their options, and then talk with their doctors. Hopefully, patients will come to the conclusion that the VATS resection should be done in every case where it’s physically possible, simply because the benefits are so clear,” he said. “Minimally invasive lung surgery repeatedly is being proven to be superior in recovery when compared to open surgery,” he added.

“Patients already are at a disadvantage simply by having cancer,” Budde said. “Hopefully, they can avoid the additional challenges of a large incision and a large surgery. Any time you can minimize those challenges, it’s going to make their recovery go a lot smoother. Sometimes, it can mean the difference between recovering enough to be able to get chemotherapy, or not being able to receive chemotherapy at all, which, obviously, affects your chances to cure the cancer,” he explained.

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