Lung cancer patients at The James Cook University Hospital can now have their tumours removed using keyhole surgery.
The specialist procedure, known as a VATS (video-assisted thoracic surgery) lobectomy, is much less invasive than traditional surgery so it can be offered to elderly patients who may previously have been deemed not fit enough for surgery.
It also halves the amount of time patients have to spend in hospital, dramatically reduces pain and discomfort experienced during recovery and enables patients to get back to their normal lives much more quickly.
South Tees Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust has invested £28,000 in specialist equipment to enable the cardiothoracic team at James Cook to offer this advanced treatment to lung cancer patients who need surgery.
Cardiothoracic consultant Joel Dunning said: “We have a good team now that’s fully trained to do VATS lobectomy which is great for the department as there are only a few other hospitals across the country offering this advanced procedure.
“Normally we have to do a very large incision and then spread two ribs apart so we can get to the chest which leaves patients feeling very sore for weeks afterwards because they can’t keep the wound still – you can put a broken leg in plaster but you can’t keep your chest still because you have to breathe!
“This new keyhole technique means we only have to make very small incisions and we don’t have to spread the ribs so there is very little pain afterwards.
“We use two cameras and do the whole thing looking at the TV screen. You get very good vision because you get a magnified view.”
Mr Dunning completed his training in Edinburgh with Bill Walker – world leader for the procedure, who came down to James Cook to assist with the hospital’s first VATS lobectomy in September.
“With this procedure patients get out of hospital very quickly and can be back driving within a week,” said Mr Dunning. “Most can go home after three days where as previously people stayed for an average of six or seven days.”
“VATS lobectomy is also suitable for a number of elderly patients who would previously have been deemed too high risk for surgery, so it will help us save lives as well as reducing the length of time we have to keep our patients in hospital.”
IT was a frightening time for Sharon McLean when she was told she needed surgery to remove a benign tumour from her lung.
The Billingham mum needed to remain active to enable her to care for her two young children but she also needed the tumour removing to prevent it developing into anything more serious.
Sharon, 43, was referred to cardiothoracic consultant Joel Dunning and when he told her that James Cook was about to start offering a new keyhole procedure for the surgery she needed she jumped at the chance to be the first of his patients to benefit from it.
“It was very exciting to be the first,” said Sharon. “I knew I was in good hands.”
Sharon had the VATS lobectomy and just three days later she was back at home with her family.
She said: “I’ve never smoked and I don’t drink so it was a bit frightening when I was told I had a benign tumour that needed removing but it was just one of those things. I felt much better when Mr Dunning told me I could have the VATS lobectomy.
“I did look on the internet to see how long it had taken other patients to recover from more traditional surgery and I think I have got off lightly!”