In terms of lung cancer surgery, lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer-related deaths among both men and women. Studies show that the incidence of lung cancer is 1.2 million new cases and 1.1 million cancer-related deaths annually. In the United States, deaths from lung cancer are higher than those from breast, prostate, and colorectal cancer.
The majority of lung cancer patients are divided into two groups based on treatment and prognosis: Small cell lung cancer (SCLC) and non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC).
SCLC is a very aggressive cancer and usually has a systemic spread at the time of diagnosis. It constitutes approximately 15-20% of lung cancers. Therefore, surgery does not play a primary role in the treatment of SCLC for a healthy life. However, it responds to systemic chemotherapy. Radiotherapy is also used for local tumor control. In SCLC, in addition to chemotherapy, radiotherapy to the chest and prophylactic cranial radiotherapy are beneficial in prolonging the life of the patient. Life in untreated SCLC is 2-4 months. The average lifespan on treatment is 18-36 months.
There are three main histological types of NSCLC: These are squamous cell cancer, adenocarcinoma (including bronchioloalveolar cancer), and large cell carcinoma. They constitute about 80% of lung cancers. They spread more slowly than SCLC and therefore there is more opportunity for early intervention. However, most NSCLC patients have advanced disease when they arrive to the doctor with disease findings. Surgery is the mainstay of treatment for early-stage NSCLC (stages 1 and 2) and offers the best chance of cure. Some of the stage 3 patients receive surgical treatment or chemotherapy or radiotherapy before or after surgery; and sometimes surgical treatment cannot be performed. Surgery is performed in selected patients with stage 4 cancers involving the brain and adrenal gland, but the general treatment is chemotherapy and radiotherapy.