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VATS Vanquishes Lung Cancer

Dec. 1, 2006 – Thanks to video-assisted thoracic surgery (VATS) for lung cancer, you can deal Joye Neudecker a new hand to play. Neudecker feels lucky her doctor found her lung cancer. When she switched primary-care doctors, the new doctor ordered a routine chest X-ray. The X-ray showed that Neudecker, who was in otherwise good health and had no symptoms, had a small, early stage carcinoma in the lower lobe of her right lung.

Neudecker, 83, had always played sports, exercised and been an avid bridge player, but she was a lifelong smoker.VATS Lung Cancer Patient Joye Neudecker "I smoked my last cigarette after my doctor called to tell me about my X-ray," she says.

Her doctor referred Neudecker to thoracic surgeon Bryan Meyers, MD, at the Siteman Cancer Center at Barnes-Jewish Hospital and Washington University School of Medicine. Neudecker had first learned of the national reputation of Washington University's thoracic surgery program when her daughter had a procedure about a year earlier. That reputation and the knowledgeable, caring manner of Meyers and the entire thoracic surgery staff put Neudecker at ease.

Washington University's thoracic surgery program is known worldwide as a leader in lung transplantation, lung volume reduction surgery, lung cancer surgery and other thoracic procedures. The department was the first in the St. Louis area to perform minimally invasive VATS.

Because of Neudecker's age, her otherwise good health and the size of the tumor, Meyers decided she was a good candidate for a video-assisted lobectomy, which involves the removal of part of a lung. In traditional lobectomies, incisions can be 6 to 10 inches long, and surgeons sometimes need to saw through the sternum and spread the ribs.

For Neudecker's VATS lobectomy, Meyers made small 1- to 2-inch incisions in Neudecker's right flank and used state-of-the art equipment to carefully remove the portion of her lung that contained the tumor. The video equipment provided optimal light and magnification to allow the delicate surgery to be completed through the tiny incisions without removing or breaking ribs or cutting any muscles. In addition, nearby lymph nodes are removed to ensure that the cancer has not spread to the rest of the lung.

Other than some pain at the surgery site, Neudecker says she has "done beautifully" since the operation. "I feel really fortunate that Dr. Meyers performed the surgery," she says.

Almost a year later, Neudecker is back to her normal activities, doing housework and going to the grocery store. She especially looks forward to playing bridge whenever she can. "I feel very lucky," she says.