A lobectomy of the lung is lung surgery that involves the removal of a diseased lobe of the lung. Lung lobectomy is the preferred treatment for patients with early stage non-small cell lung cancer. Removing the affected lobe helps to prevent the spread and recurrence of the cancer, but it cannot guarantee that the cancer will not return. Recovery depends on such factors as the location of the tumor, the extensiveness of the surgery, and the age and overall health of the patient, as well as participation in therapy.
Human lungs contain several distinct parts, or "lobes." The right lung has five lobes, and the left lung has two. When cancer invades a lobe, early detection and removal of the infected part is the most effective way to discourage metastasis, or spread of the cancer.
Lung function is affected by lung lobectomy, but the lungs do continue to function. To some degree, the surviving lobes are able to compensate. Patients can even function after removal of a whole lung, called a pneumonectomy, but lobectomy survival and recovery rates are better.
During a lobectomy of the lung, the patient is placed on his or her side, and the surgeon makes an extensive incision. Surgical instruments are used to divide the muscles and spread the ribs wide apart to provide access to the lung. The surgeon removes the diseased lobe and then sutures or staples the affected blood vessels and bronchial tube. Then tubes are placed to drain leaking air and fluids out of the chest cavity and prevent lung collapse. The ribs and muscle layers are returned to position and fastened in place, and the overlying tissue is reconnected. The wound is bandaged, and the patient is sent to recovery.
Recovering from lobectomy of the lung can be a long and difficult process. Patients must recover from the trauma to ribs and muscles and learn to compensate for reduced lung capacity. Therapy helps patients manage pain, recover range of motion, and increase lung capacity. This therapy can continue for months after the lung surgery. Recovery can be hampered by the extensiveness of surgery, the patient's age and condition, and the failure to participate in therapy.
Alternatives to a lobectomy of the lung include radiation therapy, chemotherapy, and wedge resection — removal of only the tumor and a small area around it. Lung lobectomy is generally more effective, however. It is recommended when a tumor is operable and the patient's age and health level are acceptable for surgery.