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What is lung cancer surgery?

Lung surgery to remove lung cancer may be an option when your cancer is localized. It usually is done only if your doctor thinks all the cancer can be removed and your general health is good enough for you to handle the surgery. This may involve removing the cancer, some or all of the affected lobe of the lung or the entire lung. Early stage lung cancer is commonly treated with minimally invasive surgery with small incisions. Lymph nodes are selectively removed.

Our approach

At Northwell Health Cancer Institute, our physicians don't just treat cancer—they treat the whole patient. Our doctors and surgeons work together as a team to create a unique care plan for each patient depending on his or her specific needs, preferences and health history. With full access to the comprehensive clinical resources of Northwell Health—and over 30 years of clinical trial experience, the most on Long Island—we ensure that your care is anything but one-size-fits-all when you're with us.

We'll guide you through every step of your treatment journey. Our specialists are here to answer questions, coordinate integrative care and support services, and make every effort to treat you in one convenient location. Within the first several days of your visit, the team will conduct comprehensive tests and develop a personalized cancer treatment program tailored specifically to you and your needs.

This includes the latest technologies and expertise for treating lung cancer, such as:

  • Minimally invasive surgical techniques performed by specially trained, highly-experienced thoracic surgeons that allow patients quicker recovery, less pain and less scarring
  • State of the art diagnostic procedures including advanced imaging techniques, and molecular profiling of tumors
  • Access to a multidisciplinary team consisting of medical oncologists, radiation oncologists, thoracic surgeons, pulmonologists, interventional pulmonologists, thoracic radiologists, interventional radiologists, pathologists, palliative care specialists, nutritionists, social workers, nurse-navigators, nurses and advance care practitioners
  • Aggressive and innovative treatments such as intensity-modulated radiotherapy (IMRT) and stereotactic radiotherapy 
  • Personalized treatment approaches based on tumor and/or blood-based molecular and immunological biomarkers
  • Access to clinical trials

If you have been diagnosed with lung cancer, your oncologist will explain all your treatment options and create a treatment plan tailored to your specific needs and goals. Throughout your treatment, you will work closely with a dedicated team of specialists in medical oncology, surgical oncology and radiation oncology who collaborate to ensure seamless coordination of your care. Because every lung cancer diagnosis is unique, our physicians meet once a week to share ideas and review every step each patient's care. Our prime focus is to treat your cancer effectively and conveniently while preserving your quality of life.

We’ve been ranked for high performance in our specialty for 2019-20 by U.S. News & World Report. We’re proud to be recognized for the exceptional care we provide every day.

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Research at Northwell

As part of your lung cancer treatment plan, you may have the opportunity to participate in clinical trials. These trials study new chemotherapy drugs, radiation technologies and surgical approaches. While not every patient is a candidate for clinical trials, your care team will work with you to determine eligibility. Learn more about clinical trials at Northwell Health.

Risk factors

As with any surgery or procedure, possible risks are involved in lung cancer surgery. These risks may be related to certain factors such as your age and current medical conditions. Speak with your doctor to discuss any possible risks and/or complications.


We offer several different types of surgical treatments for lung cancer. The type of operation your doctor recommends depends on the size and location of the tumor and on how well your lungs are functioning.


A lobectomy, removal of a large piece of lung (or lobe), is a common treatment for early-stage non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC). During lung lobectomy surgery, the surgeon removes the tumor and any affected tissue through small incisions or one large incision. The surgeon also may remove lymph nodes in the mid-chest area to make sure the cancer has not spread. 

A drain will remain in place after the surgery to remove excess fluid and air from around the lung. The drains are removed, prior to discharge in most cases.

Wedge resection

A wedge resection is a procedure that involves the surgical removal of a small, wedge-shaped piece of lung tissue to remove a small tumor. Depending on the location of the tumor and other factors, a wedge resection can be performed minimally invasively with VATS or by thoracotomy. Wedge resection may be performed as an alternative to lobectomy if the cancer is contained within a small area or if lung function is diminished.

During the procedure, your surgeon will remove the affected portion of lung through an incision(s) in the chest.


Segmentectomy, or segment resection, is a surgical treatment that can be an option to treat non-small cell lung cancer. It involves the removal of part of one of the lobes of the lung to entirely remove a cancerous tumor. This procedure is similar to a wedge resection, though it removes a slightly larger piece of lung tissue. It may be a good alternative to a lobectomy if there is diminished function.


A pneumonectomy is a complex surgery performed to remove an entire lung. During a pneumonectomy, your surgeon will make an incision on the side of your body where the diseased lung is located. A pneumonectomy is required for tumors not amenable to removal with lesser resections such as a lobectomy. 


Recovery from lung surgery typically takes weeks to months. With any chest surgery, the area near the incision will hurt for some time after surgery, and your activity may be limited for about a month or two. People who have minimally invasive surgery, like VATS, tend to have less pain after surgery and recover more quickly. How fast you recover may also depend other factors, such as age and current medical conditions. You and your doctor will discuss all factors to determine which procedure is right for you.


At Northwell, we perform more thoracic surgeries than any other health system in the region. Our thoracic services have been consistently recognized by the New York State Department of Health and the Society of Thoracic Surgeons for excellent patient care and outcomes, which means you can rest assured that you are in good hands.

Richard Lazzaro, MD, explains why screening and progressive surgical procedures have improved the outlook for lung cancer patients, who are now living longer and healthier.
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