Understanding Lung Surgery

Surgery is often done to get a closer look at the inside of the lungs and to help treat lung problems. If a mass is found in the lung, surgery can help determine its cause. If necessary, the mass may also be removed. Surgery may be done for other conditions as well, such as a collapsed lung or fluid around the lung.

Cutaway view of lungs

A Lung Mass

If a mass has been found in the lung, a biopsy (sample) can be removed and examined to determine whether the growth is benign (not cancerous) or malignant (cancerous). Other areas can be examined to check whether the mass has spread. If the mass needs to be removed, its size, location, and spread determine how much of the surrounding lung also needs to be removed. Removal of part or all of a lung is called lung resection.


Cutaway view of lungs

A Collapsed Lung

If a portion of the lung wall is thin or ruptured, air may leak into the pleural cavity (the space between the lungs and the chest wall). If air collects here, the lung may collapse. This is known as pneumothorax. Tubes placed during surgery can drain air from the pleural cavity so the lung re-expands. During surgery, the wall of the lung can also be repaired so it is less likely to collapse again.

Fluid Around the Lungs

Fluid may collect in the area around the lungs. One common cause of fluid around the lungs is a lung infection, which may be a complication of certain types of surgery or an illness such as pneumonia. During surgery, chest tubes can be placed in the pleural cavity to drain fluid and help the lungs heal.

Lung Reduction Surgery

This surgery can be done for some patients with emphysema. A portion of each lung is removed. This helps to open up the airways, so air can travel through them more freely. Since the size of the lungs is reduced in the chest, the diaphragm (muscle under the lungs) may have more room to move. This helps get more air in and out with each breath. Lung reduction surgery may reduce symptoms, but it’s not a cure.