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Health Information Speeding Recovery: Minimally Invasive Surgery for Cancer

Just a few days after lung cancer surgery, Louise Dellert was thrilled and surprised to be up doing dishes and setting the table. The 79-year-old from Downers Grove, IL, benefited from a minimally invasive approach performed at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago that is not widely available. Michael Liptay, MD, chief of thoracic surgery, removed a third of Dellert's lung through a tiny 2-inch incision.

In traditional, or open, surgeries to remove tumors in the lung, surgeons must spread the ribs apart, and in some instances remove a rib completely. This isn't the case with video-assisted thoracic surgery (VATS). By making two small incisions adding up to about the length of a golf tee, Liptay accomplishes the same objective as open surgery without causing significant damage to surrounding muscles, organs and tissues.

"The quality of the surgery is the same, but with much smaller incisions," says Liptay. "Patients have a shorter hospital stay, a quicker recovery, and less postoperative pain."

During the surgery, a tiny camera with a light source is inserted through a small incision in the chest wall. A second small incision is used to insert special instruments between the ribs and into the chest cavity. Working inside the chest cavity, surgeons remove the diseased portion of the lung and place it inside a bag.

"Most of the lung compresses like a sponge. Once inside the bag, we squeeze the air out of the lung," says Liptay. "The compressed tissue is extracted out through a 2-inch incision."

Three days after her surgery, Louise Dellert was out of the hospital and quickly getting back to her active routine. The next week she was well enough to return to her fitness club for a workout in the pool and a stroll on the treadmill.

"I feel great. My friends are shocked to see me back in action so quickly," says Dellert. "I left the hospital with no bandages and hardly any restrictions."

According to Liptay, the outlook for Dellert is very good. Her cancer was caught early. The five-year survival rate for stage 1 cancer is 90 percent. A former smoker herself, Dellert encourages those at risk for lung cancer to be diligent when it comes to their health.

"Don't fool around," says Dellert. "I didn't want to go in for an x-ray, but thank goodness my children insisted. If you catch it in time, you have a fighting chance."

Although not appropriate for everyone, the VATS procedure offers an important advantage for patients with early stages of lung cancer. They spend less time recovering and can focus more time and energy on enjoying their lives and maintaining their health.

"It is very exciting to transform what used to be a major and debilitating surgery into one that allows patients to get back to health and normal activity more rapidly," says Liptay.

Read more about surgery for lung and other cancers in "Minimally Invasive Surgery for Cancer: Small Incisions, Big Rewards."

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Please note: All physicians featured in Discover Rush Online are on the medical faculty of Rush University Medical Center. Some of the physicians featured are in private practice and, as independent practitioners, are not agents or employees of Rush University Medical Center.

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