New lung cancer cure fixes patients in just four days

Lung cancer sufferers could be cured thanks to an advanced technique to remove tumours via a matchstick-sized incision in the side of the chest.

The new procedure has been hailed by leading NHS lung surgeons as an effective alternative to risky open surgery.

A small tube – known as a port – is inserted to allow access to the lungs, through a gap in the rib cage. Surgeons are then able to carefully remove the part of the lung containing the tumour without causing damage to surrounding tissue.

The procedure replaces older methods which involve a large incision in the chest, or a keyhole operation that uses three separate incisions, and the advance has slashed time spent in hospital from two weeks to as little as four days for some, as patients recover faster and are in less pain.

Lung cancer sufferers could be cured thanks to an advanced technique to remove tumours via a matchstick-sized incision in the side of the chest

Lung cancer is the third most common cancer suffered in Britain, with around 46,000 Britons diagnosed each year. Since many are diagnosed too late, just ten per cent are offered surgery to remove the segment of the lung containing the cancer. 

The highest incidence of the disease is in smokers and those aged 85 or over, and many are in poor health, so open surgery may not be an option.

‘The new method is much less invasive and so is less painful for the patient and recovery is faster,’ said Laura Socci, consultant thoracic surgeon at Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust, who introduced the so-called single port video assisted thoracic surgery (VATS) technique in 2013.

Her team carries out 70 per cent of its lung surgery using single port VATS, combining it with an enhanced recovery programme so patients can go home in four days.

During the procedure, the patient is positioned on their side under general anaesthetic. The anaesthetist collapses the side of the lung where the tumour is to provide space for the surgeon to work.

Next, a 2in incision is made between two ribs and a plastic plug is inserted, through which the instruments are introduced.

The surgeon then inserts a long-handled camera which can angle up to 30 degrees, before sealing off the artery to the growth, preventing blood loss. She cuts away the growth and places it in a special bag which is pulled out of the body through the incision, preventing any cancer cells from spreading.

She then stitches the incision. The extracted section is examined to identify whether the cancer has spread, as this may prevent patients from having unnecessary further treatment such as radiotherapy or chemotherapy. It’s hoped the procedure can eventually be rolled out across the NHS.

One patient to benefit is Nick Ross, 70, a retired national secretary of a charity from Derbyshire. He visited his GP in November 2016 after he felt tingling in his lower back.

Scans at Northern General Hospital in Sheffield showed a tumour on his left lung. Mr Ross said: ‘It was devastating to hear that I had lung cancer. I’d smoked 15 cigarettes a day, but gave up 12 years ago and had no symptoms.’

Miss Socci, explained that she could operate to remove part of the left lung and the 1in tumour using the VATS procedure.

Mr Ross had the two-hour operation in February.

‘There was very little pain afterwards. I was moving the next day and could come home after four days which was marvellous,’ he said.

‘I do deep breathing exercises now, and I’ve started an enhanced recovery programme too. I now walk a mile or two a day, and am so grateful for first-class NHS care.’