What is pneumonectomy? Learn about pneumonectomy, the surgical removal of lung. All about lung removal surgery, procedure and time required for recovery. Pneumonectomies are usually performed on patients with lung cancer, as well as patients with such noncancerous diseases as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), which includes emphysema and chronic bronchitis. These diseases cause airway obstruction.
We have two lungs: a right lung and a left lung. These lungs connect to mouth through a series of tubes. Through these tubes, the lungs bring oxygen into the body and remove carbon dioxide from the body. Oxygen is necessary for all functions of body. Carbon dioxide is a waste product that the body needs to get rid of. Most people can get by with only one lung instead of two, if needed. Usually, one lung can provide enough oxygen and remove enough carbon dioxide, unless the other lung is damaged.
Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the United States. It is expected to claim nearly 157,200 lives in 2003. Lung cancer kills more people than cancers of the breast, prostate, colon, and pancreas combined. Cigarette smoking accounts for nearly 90% of cases of lung cancer in the United States. Lung cancer is the second most common cancer among both men and women and is the leading cause of death from cancer in both sexes.
Approximately 361,000 Americans die of lung disease every year. Lung disease is responsible for one in seven deaths in the United States, according to the American Lung Association. More than 25 million Americans are now living with chronic lung disease. Possible complications during and soon after surgery can include reactions to anesthesia, excess bleeding, blood clots in the legs or lungs, wound infections, and pneumonia. While it is rare, some people may not survive the surgery.
Recovering from lung cancer surgery typically takes weeks to months. If the surgery is done through a thoracotomy (a long incision in the chest), the surgeon must spread ribs to get to the lung, so the area near the incision will hurt for some time after surgery.
What is Pneumonectomy?
Pneumonectomy is the medical term for the surgical removal of a lung. A pneumonectomy is a type of surgery to remove one of your lungs because of cancer, trauma, or some other condition. It is a major surgical procedure that aims to entirely eradicate unhealthy or tumorous lung tissue, and in the case of lung cancer or pleural mesothelioma, prevent the spread of malignant cells to other sites in the body.
Pneumonectomy, Lung Removal Surgery
Surgery to remove the cancer (often along with other treatments) may be an option for early stage non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC). If surgery can be done, it provides the best chance to cure non-small cell lung cancer. Pneumonectomy removes an entire lung. This might be needed if the tumor is close to the center of the chest. Lung surgery is most effective for early-stage lung cancers, especially non-small cell lung cancer. The diseased left or right lung is removed, in addition to portions of the diaphragm, pericardium (the membrane covering the heart) and the pleura (the membrane lining the chest cavity). Lung cancer is the most common reason for a pneumonectomy. Healthcare providers usually try to remove as little as possible of the lung tissue.
This surgery is performed under general anesthesia. The surgeon begins the operation by performing a thoracotomy, which is a long incision on the same side of the chest as the diseased lung. Sometimes all or part of a rib will be removed to get a better view and help facilitate surgery. The affected lung will be then be collapsed, and any attached blood vessels will be clamped, cut, and tied off, along with the bronchus, the main tube flowing air into the lung. The diseased organ can then be removed through the incision. The cut tubes and vessels are thoroughly inspected to ensure that nothing is leaking, and a temporary drainage tube is inserted to draw air, fluid and blood out of the surgical cavity before the chest incision is closed.
A patient who has had a conventional pneumonectomy will usually leave the hospital within 10 days. Aftercare during hospitalization is focused on:
- relieving pain
- monitoring the patient’s blood oxygen levels
- encouraging the patient to walk in order to prevent formation of blood clots
- encouraging the patient to cough productively in order to clear accumulated lung secretions
Recovery is usually a slow process, with the remaining lung gradually taking on the work of the lung that has been removed. The patient may gradually resume normal non-strenuous activities. A pneumonectomy patient who does not experience postoperative problems may be well enough within eight weeks to return to a job that is not physically demanding; however, 60% of all pneumonectomy patients continue to struggle with shortness of breath six months after having surgery.
Pneumonectomy Side Effects
Pneumonectomy side effects include:
- Lung problems
- Nausea and vomiting
- Respiratory failure
- Blood clot in the lung (pulmonary embolism)
- Complications from anesthesia
- Too much bleeding
- Abnormal heart rhythms
- Reduced blood flow to the heart