Could undergoing surgery cause your lung cancer to spread? Dr. Martin Edelman debunks this misconception.
Dr. Martin J. Edelman is Chair of the Department of Hematology/Oncology and Deputy Director for Clinical Research at Fox Chase Cancer Center. More about this expert here.
Sure. Here’s one I hadn’t heard until just now. Surgery causes lung cancer to spread.
Yeah, that’s common in certain states. When I was in Maryland that was a biggie.
So, there’s a myth that the air gets to the tumor, and then it spreads. But that’s certainly not true. It certainly is possible that in a bad surgical procedure that disease can be spread, but I think historically what that was was in the days before we had as accurate of radiographic studies. So, it’s kinda interesting. I always say, “I’m not that old, and I began medical school before there were CT scans.” So, the way you would diagnose something was with a chest x-ray. That was your best chest imaging. And the brain you’d image with something called a pneumoencephalogram, which is – you don’t know what that is. Most people don’t, and they should be thankful for that. But we had no real way of knowing these things. So, what would happen is there would be a surgical exploration. They would say, “Well, it looks very localized.” But then you’d go in, and there was lots of disease all over the place.
And for the most part, that doesn’t happen anymore. Now we have CT/PET scans. We have MRIs. Patients before they go to surgery usually have had – our pulmonary physicians will usually have sampled the nodes in the middle of the chest, the mediastinum. So, it isn’t that there aren’t surprises, but there are far fewer. And certainly, a properly done operation should not spread lung cancer. I would emphasize the properly done operation. It is my strong belief that nobody should have surgery for lung cancer from other than a board certified thoracic surgeon who spends their time thinking about lung cancer, preferably in an institution with a fair volume of this.
We know – it should be no surprise to people, practice makes perfect. People who really focus in an area – people at the NCI-Designated Cancer Centers, comprehensive cancer centers – who do a lot of this have greater expertise.