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OU Medical surgeons see success with minimally invasive lung cancer treatment

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The OU Medical Center.

Two OU medical professionals performed a minimally invasive surgery to treat lung cancer in an Oklahoma patient. 

According to an OU Medicine press release, Tulsa native Pat Jones was diagnosed with lung cancer and would need a surgery that would require a large incision and opening her ribs to access her lungs. It would also require a long recovery in the hospital, according to the press release. Jones sought a second opinion to find a more acceptable method of treatment. 

Jones discovered J. Matthew Reinersman, a thoracic surgeon at OU Medicine, and his colleague Subrato J. Deb — the only two surgeons in Oklahoma who specialize in a surgery called Video-Assisted Thoracoscopic Surgery (VATS), according to the press release.

According to the press release, in traditional lung cancer removal surgeries, a large incision is made on the patient and the ribs are opened up to allow access to the lungs. Significant pain for the patient and a greater risk of infections, blood clots and pneumonia are the typical results of a traditional open surgery. Nearly a week long hospital stay can also be a result of traditional surgery, according to the press release.

VATS is a minimally invasive surgery which requires just three small incisions, so it poses less risk for complications. VATS also allows for a shorter hospital stay and quicker recovery, according to the press release.

Many surgeons will use VATS for simple chest surgeries, according to the press release, but Reinersman and Deb are experts in its use for removing lung cancer, which is a more complex and technical surgery.

Studies have shown VATS outcomes are as good as those in a traditional lung cancer surgery, but with all the benefits of minimally invasive surgery, according to the press release.

Reinersman came to OU Medicine four years ago, and has been performing VATS for patients with lung cancer since he arrived, according to the press release. Reinersman said in the release that they’ve done hundreds of VATS surgeries at OU Medicine.

“I have nicknamed Dr. Reinersman my ‘rock star’ because he performed a surgery that I thought was unavailable,” Jones said in the press release. “I was out of the hospital in 48 hours. Nobody could believe I had just gone through lung cancer surgery.”

During VATS, three small incisions are made in order to insert a tiny camera and necessary surgical instruments. The camera transmits images of the lungs onto a video screen to guide the surgery, according to the press release. 

“The advantage is that we can get patients out of the hospital as soon as one to three days after the procedure,” Reinersman said in the press release.“They have less pain, fewer side effects and can return to their normal activities faster.”

Reinersman considers the best candidates for using VATS to be those with Stage 1 or 2 cancer. However, VATS can be effective for any patient with lung cancer, he said in the press release. Patients who have borderline lung function may find VATS a preferable treatment because the procedure is easier for them to tolerate than an open surgery, according to the press release.

A significant advantage of VATS compared to traditional surgery is the reduction of pain, according to the press release. Patients who have traditional lung cancer surgery usually receive an epidural catheter in their backs to control the pain.

Pain control is necessary because patients must be able to cough and take deep breaths to help lower the risk of pneumonia, according to the press release. Since VATS is minimally invasive, pain levels are significantly reduced and an epidural catheter is not needed. 

“When I see my patients back in the clinic a couple of weeks after surgery, they’re usually taking little to no pain medicine and they’ve resumed doing most of the things they want to do. It’s really gratifying,” Reinersman said in the press release.

According to the press release, OU Medicine is the only Oklahoman institution that submits its lung cancer surgery data where it can be viewed by the public at the Society of Thoracic Surgeons General Thoracic Surgery Database.

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