LUNG cancer patients from the southern half of the region can now have their tumours removed using keyhole surgery.

The specialist procedure, known as a VATS (videoassisted 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, 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 The James Cook University Hospital, Middlesbrough, to offer this advanced treatment to lung cancer patients who need surgery.

Cardiothoracic consultant Joel Dunning said: “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 assisted with the hospital’s first VATS lobectomy in September.

“Most can go home after three days where as previously people stayed for an average of six or seven days,” said Mr Dunning.

“VATS lobectomy is also suitable for a number of elderly patients who would previously have been deemed too high-risk for surgery.”

Sharon McLean, 43, who has two children and needed to have a benign tumour removed from her lung, jumped at the chance to be the first.

“I knew I was in good hands,” said Mrs McLean, who lives in Billingham, near Stockton.

Only three days after the procedure she was back at home with her family.