Recently, I noticed an article published by Cure Magazine that talked about the different innovations that are allowing cancer surgery patients to recover more quickly with fewer complications.
What are the standard surgical procedures?
Before I get into highlights of the article, I think it’s important to delve into the types of surgery that doctors may use to treat non-small cell lung cancer. The National Cancer Institute lists the following four types:
1. Wedge resection removes the tumor, as well as some of the healthy tissue that surrounds it.
2. Lobectomy cuts out an entire section of the affected lung.
3. Pneumonectomy gets rid of an entire lung.
4. A sleeve resection removes part of the bronchus, which is the airway that connects the windpipe to the lung.
Surgery for small cell lung cancer may be more complicated because this form of the disease often affects both lungs at the same time. The lymph nodes may be abnormal, as well. In either case, patients may need to undergo additional treatments with radiation or chemotherapy.
Regardless of the type of surgery that doctors use, there are always risks for post-operative complications. These include pain, blood clots, nerve damage and infections. However, scientists are trying to improve surgical procedures to curb the danger.
New tools are helping doctors
Traditionally, doctors operate on cancer through open surgery, which means that they make incisions that are large enough to provide visual and physical access to the tumor. The risks associated with open surgery can be reduced if the incisions are smaller.
To that end, doctors can use a variety of tools to reach malignant tissues while causing minimal damage to the healthy areas. These may include laparascopes, which are tiny telescopic cameras that let doctors see inside patients, and surgical robots that doctors can control remotely. Also, a procedure known as natural orifice translumenal endoscopic surgery, or NOTES, allows clinicians to insert tools through a patient’s body via flexible endoscope, which is a tube that creates a passageway when it goes through the mouth.
“Minimally invasive procedures now represent about half of all cancer surgeries we do,” Eric Grogan, M.D., told Cure Magazine. “Ten years ago, 95 percent would have been traditional open surgeries. The minimally invasive approaches have changed the risks-benefits ratio a bit because it has slightly reduced the risk of the operation.”
Although these innovations reduce tissue damage, they still carry the risk of blood clots and infection. In order to tackle the former, more doctors are prescribing blood-thinners to be taken after surgery.
Infection control is a little bit more complicated and requires more work. This includes the prescription of antibiotics, blood glucose monitoring, controlled-warming of a patient’s body after surgery and careful administration of anesthesia during an operation, which is important for the prevention of pneumonia.
Asbestos exposure is a real public health threat. Every year, asbestos-induced lung cancer claims the lives of about 4,800 individuals in the U.S., as estimated by the Environmental Working Group. That number is expected to increase over the next 10 years or so.
Fortunately, it looks like surgical options are becoming safer for patients. However, let’s not let that diminish the importance of curbing asbestos use and production.