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Study challenges surgery for lung disease

Patients with the most severe emphysema shouldn't undergo major surgery that removes part of their damaged lungs, according to a study of more than 1,000 patients who received the operation or simply received medication for the disease.

About 2 million people have emphysema, an illness that destroys the air sacs in the lungs. The widely used surgery removes up to one-third of each damaged lung. Many surgeons say that the reduced demand on the lungs eases breathing.

However, the researchers found that among the 139 people with the most severe emphysema, surgery was of less benefit than medication. In this group, 69 people had the surgery and medication, and 70 received only medication. Within 1 month after surgery, 11 of the surgical patients died but none in the medication group did. While survivors of the surgery could walk slightly farther after 6 months than the others could, the two groups reported a similar quality of life.

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