Lung Cancer

Diathermy resection (electrocautery) for lung cancer

In some people with inoperable lung cancer the tumour blocks one of the larger airways, causing problems with breathing. Polyp-like tumours may be removed by diathermy resection (also called electrocautery). The diathermy resection happens through a tube put down the windpipe (bronchoscope). It then uses an electrical current passed through a probe to destroy tumour tissue blocking the airway. It can be used on its own or sometimes with internal radiotherapy. The procedure takes about half an hour and can cause bleeding.

One woman described how she felt before she had a tumour removed from an airway using diathermy resection. She had pain, and great difficulty with her breathing, and was in a panic. Before her operation, which was done using a flexible bronchoscope, she was given a sedative. She remembers waking up in the ward after the procedure feeling much better, breathing easily, without the need for oxygen. She did not recall any side effects of the operation.

Several other methods can be used to reopen a blocked airway, including internal radiotherapy/brachytherapy (localised radiation), photodynamic (laser) therapy (which burns the tumour out of the airway), radiofrequency ablation (using radio waves) and cryosurgery (see 'Cryosurgery and other treatments for lung cancer'). An advantage of diathermy resection over some other methods is that diathermy improves breathing immediately, but with some other methods the improvement in breathing may take some time.   

Last reviewed May 2016.

Last update May 2016.

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