You’ve been living with emphysema for years, and every year it gets a little harder to breathe. Your doctor has told you about a treatment that sounds radical, but has results that are hard to ignore. He is talking about lung volume reduction surgery and would like to see if you are a candidate.
For someone with emphysema, removing a portion of your lungs might seem an unlikely way to help you breathe easier – but it does just that.
Bryan Meyers, MD, MPH, Washington University thoracic surgeon, explains, “In patients with emphysema, about one-fourth have damage concentrated in their upper lungs, resulting in 20 to 40 percent of normal lung function. These patients are potential candidates for lung volume reduction surgery (LVRS).”
Dr. Meyers performs video-assisted thoracoscopic surgery where he removes 20 to 30 percent of the tops of the lungs’ upper lobes. This relieves compression caused by emphysema and allows better expansion of the remaining, less diseased portions of the lungs.
Pulmonologist Roger Yusen, MD, MPH, explains the qualification screening process for patients to ensure a favorable result. “Factors such as current or recent smoking, pulmonary hypertension, extremely low oxygen levels, extremely high carbon dioxide levels, severe airway disease or significant health problems such as heart disease or diabetes can decrease good outcomes.”
“Because of our careful screening process”, says Dr. Yusen “approximately 85 percent of our patients who undergo LVRS experience at least 50 percent improvement in breathing following surgery. These patients also report significantly reduced shortness of breath, better oxygen levels, as well as an improved ability to walk and take part in daily activities.”
Getting a lung transplant was previously the primary treatment for emphysema. When LVRS became available, patients could choose between transplantation and LVRS. Changes in how donor lungs are allocated eliminated that choice for many patients because people with emphysema lack priority on the lung-transplant waiting list.
According to Dr. Meyers, “Patients with emphysema often remain on the list for two to four years before they are sick enough to qualify for transplantation. In the meantime, if they can undergo LVRS, their quality of life and lung function improve right away. And for many of these patients, transplantation is no longer needed.”
If you are suffering from emphysema — the minimally invasive nature of LVRS and the dramatic difference it can make in your life should prompt the question, “Am I a candidate for lung volume reduction surgery?”