What is a Lung Resection?

A lung resection is a surgical procedure in which all or part of a lung is removed. This procedure is usually performed by a thoracic surgeon, a specialist who has received detailed training in procedures involving the thoracic cavity. It is major surgery and often requires a hospital stay for several days after the surgery for the purpose of monitoring the patient’s progress.
Historically, lung resections involved a cut down the breastbone to access the chest cavity. Surgeons later adapted the procedure for some patients by cutting under the breastbone to access the lungs, developing a less invasive approach. Modern surgeons can sometimes use minimally invasive techniques for a lung resection, in which case the chest cavity is not opened at all. These procedures are preferred when they are an option because they are lower in risk and the recovery time is much quicker.
Lung resections are commonly performed to remove diseased areas of the lung, such as areas which have been colonized by cancerous tumors. In a procedure known as a wedge resection, a healthy margin of tissue is taken as well to confirm that all of the tumor has been removed, reducing the risk of recurrence. In a lobectomy procedure, an entire lobe of one of the lungs is removed. Lung resections can also be done to address congenital abnormalities and other problems related to the lungs, such as abscesses in the lung.
In cases where a whole lung is removed, known as a pneumonectomy, one reason to perform a lung resection is to prepare a patient for transplant. The diseased lung is first removed, and then the donor lung is transplanted. The surgeon connects the lung, checks to confirm that it is inflating and functioning properly, and then closes the surgical site. In a double lung transplant, a procedure which can take up to 12 hours, both lungs are removed and replaced with donor lungs.
Before a lung resection is performed, the surgeon will discuss the procedure and the planned outcome with the patient. The surgeon should also disclose the risks of the procedure and discuss possibilities which might arise during the surgery, such as a situation in which the surgeon realizes that the whole lung, not just a section, is diseased. The surgeon should answer any questions the patient or caregivers might have, and detailed information about recovery will be provided to help patients prepare. Knowing what to expect from a lung resection before the procedure happens can reduce stress, which will improve patient outcomes.

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