Thoracic (Lung Cancer) Oncology

Surgery for Thoracic and Lung Cancer

Every cancer is different and each patient is unique.  We have put together one of the nation's best team of cancer specialists -- so you can get the best possible diagnosis and treatment plan designed specifically for you.

The Comprehensive Cancer Center at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center is proud to be one of only 45 in the United States designated as "comprehensive" by the National Cancer Institute.  

After our multidisciplinary group of cancer specialists carefully reviews your case, they will develop a treatment plan designed specifically for you, ensuring that you get the most up-to-date care and access to the medical center's latest clinical trials. This means that different cancer specialists, including those with experience in surgery, radiation and chemotherapy, will discuss the best treatment plan for you.

Thoracic and Lung Cancer Surgery 

If surgery is the best treatment option for you, your surgeon will discuss different surgical options for treating your cancer. This treatment plan may include surgery to remove the tumor, part of your lung, or your entire lung, depending on where your cancer is located. 

Surgery is a common and effective treatment option for:

  • patients with non-small cell lung cancer that has not yet spread to other organs
  • tumors that originate in our are invading your chest wall or diaphragm
  • tumors in your esophagus
  • tumors in the center of your chest (mediastinal tumors)

Surgery often plays a role in combination with chemotherapy and radiation therapy for certain cancers.

Thoracic Cancer Surgery at  Wake Forest Baptist Health 

The Comprehensive Cancer Center offers the most advanced surgical techniques available. We are one of the most experienced centers in the nation performing minimally invasive robotic and video-assisted thoracoscopic lung surgery.

Surgery is performed based on each patient's needs and the size and location of the tumor(s). Your surgeon will discuss minimally invasive options for you, where possible.  However, your surgeon's primary role is to choose the right surgery for the most effective treatment.  These procedures include:

We are experienced in performing both open and thoracoscopic approaches. Surgery is performed based on each patient’s needs and the size and location of the tumor(s). Your thoracic surgeon will discuss minimally invasive options for you, where possible. However, your surgeon’s primary role is to choose the right surgery for the most effective treatment. These procedures include: 


This procedure allows the surgeon to visualize the main airways inside the lungs for examination or to take tissue samples (biopsies). The surgeon uses a small videoscope -- bronchoscope -- which may go through your mouth or nose. It may be done before your surgery day, but it is usually performed again just prior to surgery in the operating room.


The mediastinum is the area located between the two lungs.  It contains the following structures:

  • Heart
  • Thymus (immune system gland)
  • Esophagus
  • Trachea
  • Large blood vessels
  • Numerous lymph nodes

A small neck incision is made and another small videoscope—mediastinoscope—is inserted to see the structures in the upper portion of the chest.  Lymph node biopsies are taken to help in the staging of certain diseases.  This may be performed before your surgery as an outpatient procedure.

Robotic-Assisted Thoracic Surgery:

Robotic-assisted thoracic surgery is the most advanced technology available. It provides patients with a minimally invasive treatment option - even for the most complex cases. It is performed through four or five tiny incisions between the ribs; patients avoid both a large incision and the possibility of having their ribs spread. Your surgeon controls the da Vinci RoboticSystem, which translates his or her hand movements into smaller, more precise movements of tiny instruments inside your body.  Though it is often called a “robot,” da Vinci cannot act on its own - surgery is performed entirely by your doctor.

Robotic surgery offers patients the following potential benefits compared to traditional open surgery:

  • Lower rate of complications
  • Less blood loss
  • Shorter hospital stay
  • Less pain
  • Faster return to normal quality of life

As a result, you may be able to get back to normal activities faster ― without the usual recovery following major surgery.

Video-Assisted Thoracic Surgery (VATS):

VATS, another minimally-invasive thoracic surgery technique, is performed with a small videoscope—thoracoscope—using small incisions and specialized instruments.  This type of procedure typically has less pain and quicker recovery times than traditional thoracotomy.  If you need thoracic surgery, a minimally-invasive method is considered first.  However, some procedures are still best performed using a traditional “open” technique.  Your surgeon will carefully determine which surgical approach is best to treat your specific condition.


This procedure allows the surgeon to access the inside of your chest.  An incision is made along the side of your chest, and the ribs are spread apart to better visualize your lungs.  The amount of lung tissue removed will depend on the type, size, and specific location of the abnormal area(s).


Segmentectomy is an anatomic lung-sparing resection performed for certain benign lesions and on selected patients with lung cancer. Your thoracic surgeon will remove that part of the lung where the tumor is growing, as well as any margins around the tumor that may have cancer cells.

Wedge Resection:            

During this procedure, only a small part of the lung is removed.  It is usually a triangular shaped piece of the lung where the tumor is growing. This is usually performed if the abnormal area is benign or small and is located on the edge of the lung.

Graphic showing the removal of a small section of the lung


The lungs consist of multiple lobes—3 lobes on the right and 2 lobes on the left.  In this procedure, an entire lobe of the lung is removed.

Graphic showing removal of a lobe of the lung


This procedure involves removing an entire lung.  It is commonly performed if there is concern that the cancer has spread throughout the lung or the abnormal area is centrally located.Before the surgery, your surgeon will make sure that your other lung is strong enough to perform breathing for your body.

Graphic describes a pneumonectomy -- a procedure in which the entire lung is removed  

Radio Frequency Ablation for lung tumors:

Radio Frequency Ablation (RFA) is the burning of tumors using high frequency radio waves. Our thoracic surgeons work in conjunction with our radiologists to perform these procedures.








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Comprehensive Cancer Center

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Last Updated: 10-06-2015
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Disclaimer: The information on this website is for general informational purposes only and SHOULD NOT be relied upon as a substitute for sound professional medical advice, evaluation or care from your physician or other qualified health care provider.