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Upstate’s robotic lung cancer surgery success rate hits new milestone

Upstate Medical University’s thoracic surgeons have a 100 percent success rate for minimally invasive lobectomies for stage one lung cancer, according to a national database that tracks these surgeries.

A lobectomy is the removal of a lobe of the lungs, most often performed to remove cancerous tumors. It is a technically difficult surgery due to the proximity to the heart.

According to the Society of Thoracic Surgeons National Database, over the last three years, Upstate has performed 154 stage one lung cancer surgeries and have completed them all robotically.

“We’ve hit a milestone,” said Jason Wallen, MD, FACS and division chief of Thoracic Surgery. “That’s kind of a remarkable statistic. We’ve had a 100 percent success rate, which almost nobody has.”

The national average is 88.5 percent, Wallen added.

Upstate has done the majority of lobectomies for all stages of lung cancer robotically for 8 years. While minimally invasive surgery is best for the patient, sometimes situations occur during surgery, such as excessive bleeding, where doctors have to switch to conventional surgery.

“That’s become vanishingly rare,” Wallen said.

Traditional lobectomies involve a big incision and possibly cracking of ribs or tearing of muscles, which leads to a more difficult recovery that includes difficulty taking deep breaths, and difficulty getting out of bed and walking, which leaves patients more prone to pneumonia and blood clots. Patients are in significantly more pain which in turn means more use of narcotics.

Patients who receive minimally invasive surgery have fewer complications, faster recovery, less pain and less need for narcotics. Wallen says these patients are out of the hospital in an average of three days, which is the same as the national average.

While the national database only tracks stage-one surgeries, Wallen says Upstate’s rate of minimally invasive lobectomies with stage 2 and 3 is around 98 percent as well.

Wallen says lobectomies are one of the more technically challenging operations and he credits the team that also includes Michael Archer, DO, FACS and Yifan Zheng, MD with Upstate’s success.

“If we tell you that it’s going to be minimally invasive you can take that to the bank,” he said.

Caption: All lobectomies for stage one lung cancer are being performed with minimally invasive surgery by Upstate thoracic surgeons, from left, Michael Archer, DO, Yifan Zeng, MD, and Jason Wallen, MD, division chief.