Lung Cancer Surgery & Treatments

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You’ve learned that you have lung cancer and need surgery. Or you have a lung nodule that could be cancer. We know that you're scared.

At UVA, we’ll do everything we can to see you as soon as possible. Here, you’ll find the expertise of a top cancer center without the hassle of a major city.

Big Expertise & Small-Town Feel

Our doctors are leaders in their fields. They literally write the textbooks on how best to beat lung cancer and other lung diseases. They also take the time to listen to each patient.

We participated in clinical trials for medicines, procedures, and radiation treatments that have changed the standard of care for lung cancer. And we offer the personalized, caring support you’d expect from a small-town hospital.

We Focus Only on Chest (Thoracic) Conditions

From diagnosis to surgery to other treatments you may need, you’ll have a close-knit team of experts. We focus only on cancers and diseases of the chest area.

You won’t find more specialized care anywhere.

Treatment Tailored for You

Lung cancer tends to develop later in life, when you might be dealing with other health issues. We will tailor a treatment plan based on:

  • How healthy you are
  • The type and genetic profile of your cancer
  • Is it operable or has it spread to other organs

We use the latest diagnostic tools so you won’t have to wait weeks to know exactly what type of cancer you are facing. We can quickly assess the genetic mutations in your cancer so we know what treatments will be most effective.

Lung Cancer Surgery at UVA

At UVA, you’ll have a surgical team led by a thoracic surgeon. These surgeons treat conditions affecting the lungs, esophagus, and chest.

When we do surgery to remove lung cancer, we balance preserving as much healthy lung tissue as possible with completely removing the tumor. Most people don’t notice a big change in lung function, even if we need to remove up to 20 percent of your lung. Our team is trained to determine if surgery is safe for you, if you have emphysema or other health problems.

Your two lungs are divided into parts called lobes. If you have cancer on one or two of these lobes, we can remove the lobe or lobes. Called a lobectomy, this is the standard operation for lung cancer, especially for a tumor larger than 2 cm. In some cases we can take out small tumors by removing just part of a lobe.

Less-Invasive Lung Cancer Surgery

Whenever possible, we try to offer a less-invasive option. We're one of the region’s most experienced hospitals in performing these procedures.

A surgery with smaller cuts can make recovery easier for your body. At UVA, we can do this operation with small cuts using robotic-assisted surgery or video-assisted thoracic surgery (VATS). In some cases a bigger incision (thoracotomy) is the best way to remove the cancer. Our team has excellent results with this type of surgery due to a comprehensive recovery from surgery program.

You’ll be out of the hospital in about 4 days and back to your regular routine in about 3-4 weeks.

Your surgeon and cancer care team will decide what operation is best for you. The type of incision is based on many things – your anatomy, the size and location of tumor, other surgery or treatments you’ve had, or whether the cancer has spread to any lymph nodes (small glands throughout your body that help you fight infection).

Surgery as a Cure

Surgery can be a cure for early stages of lung cancer. Thanks to lung cancer screening, we are seeing more early stage lung cancers. We may use chemo- and/or radiation therapy before surgery to shrink the tumor. Or we do this after surgery to try to kill off any remaining cancer cells.

Radiation for Lungs

Lungs move as we breathe. This makes targeting radiation hard. So our radiation oncologists use the most precise technology to target tumors with cancer-killing radiation.

Learn more about TomoTherapy

Making Recovery Easier

Going through a major surgery can be scary for you and your family. We're here to guide you through every step. We'll make sure you're actively involved in your recovery through our Enhanced Recovery After Surgery (ERAS) program. You’ll quickly return to your regular activities by following these research-backed steps:

  • Get plenty of information so you feel ready for surgery. (Your care team will give you a detailed guidebook.)
  • Drink a sports drink two hours before surgery to reduce the physical stress of surgery.
  • Get the right medication to help you stay comfortable as you recover. (We use long-acting pain relievers and avoid opioid medicines that can cause unwanted side effects.)
  • Our surgeons and anesthesiologists have a comprehensive strategy to block pain before it starts
  • Eat, drink, and walk around as soon as you can after surgery.

Our program is backed by several years of experience and fine-tuning. It works so well that surgeons around the world use our strategy.

Treatment for Advanced Lung Cancer

Many lung cancers are found in an advanced stage, when it’s not always possible to remove the cancer with surgery. Or surgery may be too dangerous for you, due to the health of your heart and lungs.

To make breathing easier and relieve other symptoms, we can offer several types of procedures, including:

  • Thoracentesis: We insert a needle into the space between the lungs and chest wall (pleural space) to draw out excess fluid, and return the lung to full expansion.
  • Pleurodesis: We place a chemical substance in the chest cavity that surrounds the lungs. The substance causes the two pleural (lining of the lung) layers to stick together, eliminating the space between them. This allows the lung to stay expanded and prevents fluid from building up and compressing the lung.

A Boost to Your Immune System

At UVA, you’ll find the latest treatments in immunotherapy. These medicines help your immune system to better recognize and destroy cancer cells. These drugs target specific genetic mutations in certain types of lung cancer, so not everyone is a candidate. Our expert medical oncologists will help find the medicines that work best against your type of cancer.

Immunotherapy medicines are helping people with these and other advanced lung cancers live months, and even years, longer.

At UVA, our experts oversee several clinical trials testing new therapies for lung cancer. These trials give our patients access to the next generation of treatments before they are widely available.

Advanced Treatments in Lung Cancer

Richard Hall, MD, goes over some options for treating advanced forms of lung cancer, including immunotherapy, chemotherapy, and other medicines. See the advanced treatments for lung cancer transcript.