15 May 2012
Mr Simon Jordan, consultant thoracic surgeon at Royal Brompton Hospital, performed pioneering surgery on 11-year-old Rhys Watkins, to remove a tumour from his lung.
Video assisted thoracoscopic surgery (VATS), a form of keyhole surgery, is used in more than one in 10 cases of lung cancer in adults and avoids the need to open up the chest and spread the ribs apart for an operation. It is rarely used for children.
Rhys was born with a form of neurofibromatosis, NF1, a genetic disease affecting one baby born each day in the UK. The condition causes multiple, generally benign tumours in the nervous system. However, on occasion, the tumours are cancerous, as was the case for Rhys.
He had previously had a tumour removed from the top of this leg, which has left him with mobility problems, but the cancer had spread to his lungs. Although small when it was first picked up, the tumour grew rapidly and, by the operation, it was as big as a tennis ball and “was starting to take over the whole of the bottom lobe of the lung”.
VATS is a less invasive procedure performed using a series of smaller incisions with video assistance. Evidence to date shows VATS lung resection is already achieving impressive results, with patients who undergo the surgery experiencing less pain and a shorter hospital stay after their operation.
Mr Jordan said: "More and more we are impressed by the speed of recovery and how much better the recovery can be."
Travelling home on the bus and train only three days after the operation, Rhys’s father, Trevor Watkins said: “None of the other passengers would have known he had just had major surgery – he was walking around like a normal 11-year-old.
“Rhys has known all of his life that he has an illness which he has to deal with, but this lung surgery has had much less impact because of how it was done.”
Experts at Royal Brompton & Harefield NHS Foundation Trust diagnose and treat over 2,500 people for cancer each year. Both Royal Brompton and Harefield hospitals offer cancer services including lung surgery, cryosurgery, radiofrequency ablation therapy and lung metastasectomies using the UK's first lung laser. Royal Brompton Hospital is a major London centre for lung cancer and works closely with The Royal Marsden.
Eight-year-old Georgie Wren underwent surgery to remove a tumour that had damaged her left lung. Read her story.