Surgery for COPD

Some people with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) have surgery to help improve their lung function. Surgery is only a choice for some people with COPD. Not everyone with COPD will benefit from it, and not everyone is a good candidate for surgery.1,2

Is surgery an option for treating COPD?

There are 3 types of surgery that may be used to treat COPD:1,2

Which people with COPD can have surgery?

Doctors use many different tests to find out if surgery is an option for someone with COPD. It will then be up to the person and their doctor to decide if surgery is the right treatment choice.

A team of doctors will usually be involved in helping a person with COPD consider whether or not to have surgery. The team might include:1,2

  • Primary care doctor
  • Pulmonologist (lung and breathing specialist)
  • Thoracic surgeon
  • Anesthesiologist
  • Respiratory therapist

People need to meet different conditions to be considered for the 3 different types of surgery. However, some of the basic conditions are:1,2

  • The person needs to be strong enough for surgery
  • The person needs to take part in a pulmonary rehabilitation program
  • The person cannot be a current smoker

What is a bullectomy?

Bullectomy is a type of surgery that can help improve lung function for some people with COPD. Emphysema can cause lung damage that destroys the walls of the millions of tiny air sacs in the lungs. These are called alveoli. When the walls of the alveoli are destroyed, they combine to form larger air sacs called bullae.1,2

When these bullae in the lungs become large enough, they can make it difficult to breathe. During a bullectomy, surgeons remove the bullae from sections of the lungs. This can help improve breathing and lung function for some people with COPD. The size and location of the bullae in a person's lungs determines whether or not this kind of surgery is an option.1,2

What is lung volume reduction surgery?

Lung volume reduction surgery is a type of surgery for people with severe COPD. Surgeons reduce the size of a person's lungs by taking out the parts that have been the most damaged by the disease. This is usually between 20 to 30 percent of the lungs.1,3

Removing the most damaged sections of the lungs can help the healthier parts of the lungs to work in a more effective way. This can lead to other positive results, such as:3

  • Improved breathing
  • Larger lung capacity
  • Better quality of life

What is a lung transplant?

Lung transplants are usually only an option for certain people with severe COPD who have lung failure that no other treatment options can help. Lung failure means that the lungs are no longer able to absorb oxygen from the air and transfer it into the bloodstream. COPD can cause lung failure for some people.1

During a lung transplant, 1 or both of a person's lungs are removed and replaced with those of a donor. It is a major surgery that carries many risks, so people and their doctor must carefully consider whether it is the right option.1

The benefits of a lung transplant for people with severe COPD include:1

  • Improved lung function
  • Increased ability to exercise
  • Better quality of life

The number of people waiting for lung transplants is much higher than the number of donor organs that are available. This means once a person decides to go forward with a lung transplant, they may have to wait a long time until a suitable donor organ becomes available.1

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Written by: Anna Nicholson and Emily Downward | Last reviewed: March 2021