There has been dramatic resurgence of interest in surgical treatment of emphysema, particularly "lung volume reduction" procedures. Recent studies have demonstrated improvements in pulmonary function, lung mechanics, exercise tolerance, and quality of life in selected patients following volume reduction procedures. However, considerable uncertainty remains regarding overall benefit, optimal patient selection, operative techniques, and duration of response. This summarizes current approaches to lung volume reduction surgery, available clinical outcome information, selection criteria, and physiologic mechanisms of response, and discusses the potential role for surgical volume reduction in treatment of emphysema. Recent data appear to support the efficacy of bilateral staple lung volume reduction surgery in patients with severe symptomatic heterogeneously distributed emphysema. Further studies will be needed to determine relative value of different operative techniques and benefit in patients with other clinical presentations.