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Surgery for Lung Cancer

Surgery is often recommended for people with lung cancer. For patients with non-small lung cancer--which accounts for 80 percent of lung cancer cases--it is often the best choice.

Lung resection is frequently considered for patients with the earliest stage of lung cancer. During the procedure, doctors remove the section of the lung that contains cancer. Depending on the type of surgical procedure (open, video-assisted or robotic), most patients stay in the hospital three to six days and return to their normal activity levels in about four weeks. Nine out of 10 people who have resections can resume a normal lifestyle after their surgery.

Minimally Invasive Surgery

Video-Assisted Thoracic Surgery (VATS)

Our surgeons are experts in video-assisted thoracic surgery (VATS) to remove lung cancer. This minimally invasive technique requires only three small incisions. During the procedure, a surgeon can remove a cancerous part of the lung through an incision less than two inches long. >View outcomes from a research study comparing VATS to open surgery

Robotic Thoracic Surgery

Due to rapidly evolving technological advances in robotic surgery, thoracic surgeons at the University of Chicago Medicine now perform robot-assisted lung resection and other thoracic procedures. This approach uses computer-aided technology and robotics to provide surgeons a greater range of motion, high-definition three-dimensional views and fine precision while operating within the chest cavity. Like the VATS procedure, robotic surgery requires only a few small incisions.

Benefits of VATS and Robotic Surgery

Studies show that patients who have VATS or robotic surgery for lung cancer go home sooner than patients who have traditional lung surgery. They also experience considerably less pain and fewer complications after surgery. These benefits are why our surgeons use minimally invasive techniques for approximately 70 percent of major lung resection surgeries -- a remarkable achievement over the nationwide average of 40 percent.

Patients with early stage small cell lung cancer who have not had previous chemotherapy or radiation are often ideal for these minimally invasive approaches. Even if a patient is not a candidate for VATS or robotic surgery, our surgeons can perform lung surgery using a small incision in the side of the chest, between the ribs. This helps minimize pain and speeds the healing process.

Greg Klawitter and Mark Ferguson, MD Although Greg Klawitter underwent surgery for lung cancer at the University of Chicago Medicine in 2001, the retired Chicago police officer hasn’t forgotten the thoracic surgeon who saved his life. » Read the story

Experience Matters

Studies show that the immediate outcomes of lung surgery are better – and the likelihood of being cured is higher -- when a board-certified thoracic surgeon (rather than a general or cardiac surgeon) performs the operation. At the University of Chicago Medicine, our surgeons are dedicated thoracic surgeons who do not perform general surgery or cardiac surgery. >Compare lung cancer surgery outcomes statistics for patients treated by thoracic, cardiac and general surgeons.