Connect with others who understand.

sign up log in
Resources
About MyLungCancerTeam
Powered By

Lobectomy for Lung Cancer: How To Prepare and Recover

Posted on May 16, 2022
Medically reviewed by
Richard LoCicero, M.D.
Article written by
Joan Grossman

Lobectomy is a type of treatment for lung cancer in which an entire lobe of lung tissue is surgically removed. When two lobes are removed, the procedure is called bilobectomy.

The lungs have five lobes — three in the right lung and two in the left lung, near the heart. Lobectomy is the most common type of surgery for lung cancer and is performed when the cancer affects only part of the lung. When the entire lung is removed, the procedure is called a pneumonectomy.

Lobectomy is performed in two ways: thoracotomy and video-assisted thoracic surgery (VATS). During a thoracotomy, an incision is made between the ribs, and the chest wall is opened for surgery on the lung.

VATS is a less invasive procedure that can be performed in cases of early-stage lung cancer. It involves making several small incisions in the chest. These incisions allow a video camera to guide small instruments to extract a lobe without opening the ribs. Shorter hospital stays, faster recovery, and less pain are associated with VATS lobectomy.

If lobectomy is appropriate for your lung cancer, you can prepare for the procedure in ways that may aid your recovery and help prevent complications.

Preparing for Lobectomy

Facing lung surgery can be stressful, and emotional and physical issues may arise. Understanding the procedure can help you cope with any concerns.

One MyLungCancerTeam member described their situation in response to another member undergoing surgery: “I’m having a lobectomy. Looks like stage 1. Like you, I just want it out, and surgery is the best way to do that from all my research. Am I afraid? Yeah, it’s a big deal. But I’m much more concerned if I don’t have surgery.”

What To Do Before Surgery

If you, your oncologist, and your cardiothoracic surgeon determine that you are a good candidate for a lobectomy, be sure you understand important steps you need to take before surgery. Follow your doctor’s recommendations carefully.

Typically, people undergoing lobectomy are advised to do the following:

  • Quit smoking if you smoke. Heart and lung function can be seriously impaired by smoking. Quitting lowers your risk of infection, improves healing, and reduces the need for rehabilitation.
  • Tell your doctors about all medications you are taking. Be sure to discuss both prescription drugs, such as blood thinners, and over-the-counter medications, as well as herbal and dietary supplements.
  • Let your doctors know if you have a pacemaker or another medical device implanted in your body.
  • Inform your doctors about any allergies or past reactions to general anesthesia.
  • Be honest about your alcohol consumption. Alcohol can negatively affect your surgery and recovery. Talk to your health care providers if you are a heavy drinker to learn how you can safely cut back on alcohol.

Tests Prior to Lobectomy

You will have a number of tests before your surgery that may require several appointments. Your doctors need to ensure that your health is suitable for a lobectomy. Tests may include:

  • Blood and urine tests to determine overall health
  • CT scan to evaluate your disease
  • Evaluation of your cancer staging
  • Imaging tests, such as a positron emission tomography scan or an MRI scan to determine if your cancer has spread

Managing Other Conditions Prior to Lobectomy

Your surgeon needs to know about other conditions that may affect your surgery. If you have sleep apnea and use a breathing device, you may need to bring your device with you to the hospital. Men who are over 50 or have a history of enlarged prostate may be given a drug to prevent problems with urination after surgery.

You will also be evaluated for conditions that are risk factors for complications with lobectomy, such as high blood pressure and other types of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and preoperative radiation or chemotherapy.

Physical and Mental Health Conditioning Before Surgery

Your doctor may advise exercises for physical and mental conditioning before having a lobectomy. Studies show that deep breathing and other types of physical conditioning can increase lung function, physical health, and emotional well-being and may help prevent complications after surgery.

Be sure you work with your doctors to ensure that you are doing exercises that are appropriate for your condition, and follow any recommendations from your doctor. Talk to your doctor about referrals for physical therapy if you need assistance with a recommended preoperative exercise program.

Become Informed About Lobectomy

Research has shown that outcomes improve when people with lung cancer and their caregivers are well-informed about the upcoming surgery and its aftermath. In a study with 60 participants who were either undergoing lung surgery or caring for someone who was, emotional quality of life was significantly better when people became knowledgeable about the procedures. The participants’ symptoms also showed improvement after surgery compared with the control group, who did not receive a plan for lung surgery preparation.

It’s important to have a clear understanding of what will happen before surgery, the day of surgery, and during recovery in the hospital, as well as what to expect while healing at home. Take time to talk with your doctors about each step of the surgical process. Your health care providers may offer an educational program or other resources to help you better understand what you will be going through.

Recovering From Lobectomy

Many MyLungCancerTeam members have questions about recovering from lobectomy.

“Just had a lobectomy three weeks ago. Anyone know how long it generally takes for the pain to go away or subside? Feels like I have a heavy weight on the left side of my chest and on my left side, plus a lot of tenderness still,” one member wrote.

Experiences with lobectomy can vary. Another member wrote, “Had a lobectomy. Walked out of the hospital under my own power 50 hours later with no pain meds. Have to take it easy.”

Medical Management Post-surgery

During your lobectomy, at least one chest tube will be inserted in your lung to remove air and drain fluid while you are in the hospital. On average, a chest tube is removed after about two days. In rare cases, a chest tube may need to remain when you return home. If that happens, your doctor will tell you how to manage the tube.

While in the hospital, you will learn breathing and coughing exercises to improve your lung function. Some people require oxygen both in the hospital and at home. You will also be guided on movement and walking protocols, often within hours after surgery, to help strengthen your lung capacity and support healing. You may have a chest X-ray shortly after surgery.

The length of a hospital stay after a lobectomy can vary. The average hospital stay with a thoracotomy is six to seven days, whereas a less invasive VATS lobectomy requires an average stay of four or five days. After you are discharged, it’s essential to follow your doctor’s recommendations for pain medication, exercise, and activities. You will also be scheduled for a follow-up evaluation.

In some cases, your doctor may recommend radiation or chemotherapy after a lobectomy.

Home Care After Surgery

Managing your recovery at home requires time and patience. It can take weeks or months to feel normal. After a lobectomy, it is common to experience some pain, fatigue, shortness of breath, or a dry cough. You will be given pain medication and instructions for transitioning away from narcotic painkillers to avoid dependence or side effects such as constipation. Contact your doctor immediately if you develop a fever or any other signs of infection.

Arrange for help with chores, errands, cooking, and other daily tasks from a family member, friend, or caregiver. You will likely need help for a few weeks while you recover.

Your doctor will provide information about how to keep your incision clean, how to manage fatigue and pain, and when to do breathing exercises. Be sure to follow your doctor’s recommendations for walking and maintaining appropriate amounts of activity.

Physical therapy is often prescribed to aid recovery. Exercises can help clear bronchial fluids, expand the chest, improve posture, increase range of motion in the shoulder, and promote general conditioning. Each of these aspects is important for healing respiratory muscles and regaining strength.

Mental Health

Many people who have surgery for lung cancer experience depression and anxiety afterward. Postoperative symptoms can worsen psychological distress. Talk with your health care team if you need help addressing mental health issues related to your lobectomy. Your doctors can provide referrals for mental health evaluation and treatment.

Learn more about how lung cancer can affect your mental health.

Potential Complications of Lobectomy

Complications may arise after a lobectomy. The most common problem is a prolonged air leak in the lung, which occurs in 15 percent to 18 percent of pulmonary resections. The risk is higher among people with emphysema.

Other less common complications include:

  • Pneumonia
  • Atelectasis — Partial or complete lung collapse
  • Atrial fibrillation — A type of irregular heart rate
  • Lobe torsion — A rare occurrence in which the lobe rotates and blocks blood vessels
  • Bleeding
  • Chylothorax — A rare type of injury to the thoracic duct
  • Nerve injury

Contact your health care providers if you feel any unusual symptoms, such acute chest pain.

Talk With Others Who Understand

MyLungCancerTeam is the social network for people with lung cancer and their loved ones. On MyLungCancerTeam, more than 6,000 members come together to ask questions, give advice, and share their stories with others who understand life with lung cancer.

Are you living with lung cancer? Do you have questions about lobectomy? Share your experience in the comments below, or start a conversation by posting on your Activities page.

All updates must be accompanied by text or a picture.
Richard LoCicero, M.D. has a private practice specializing in hematology and medical oncology at the Longstreet Clinic Cancer Center, in Gainesville, Georgia. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Learn more about him here.
Joan Grossman is a freelance writer, filmmaker, and consultant based in Brooklyn, NY. Learn more about her here.

Related articles

Many people use radiation therapy as a part of their lung cancer treatment plan.

Radiation for Lung Cancer: What To Expect and Side Effects

Many people use radiation therapy as a part of their lung cancer treatment plan.
Life with lung cancer involves appointments with many specialists for treatment and support. Und...

Lung Cancer Specialists: What To Expect at Pulmonologist and Oncologist Visits

Life with lung cancer involves appointments with many specialists for treatment and support. Und...
Surgery is a common lung cancer treatment, and one type of surgery is a pneumonectomy. This proc...

Can You Live With One Lung? What To Know About Pneumonectomy

Surgery is a common lung cancer treatment, and one type of surgery is a pneumonectomy. This proc...
Lung cancer therapies work in a variety of ways. Some treatments, such as chemotherapy, are known...

How Does Targeted Therapy for Lung Cancer Work?

Lung cancer therapies work in a variety of ways. Some treatments, such as chemotherapy, are known...
Recent advancements in cancer treatment use specialized antibodies that activate the immune syst...

Does Immunotherapy for Lung Cancer Work?

Recent advancements in cancer treatment use specialized antibodies that activate the immune syst...
People with non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) may wonder about participating in a clinical tria...

Clinical Trials for NSCLC: What To Ask Your Doctor

People with non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) may wonder about participating in a clinical tria...

Recent articles

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved updated boosters for messenger RNA (mRN...

New COVID-19 Vaccine Boosters for Omicron: What To Know if You Have Lung Cancer

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved updated boosters for messenger RNA (mRN...
If you’ve been diagnosed with lung cancer, you may be wondering if there’s a connection between a...

Is There a Connection Between Alcohol and Lung Cancer?

If you’ve been diagnosed with lung cancer, you may be wondering if there’s a connection between a...
Imaging studies are an important part of diagnosing most forms of cancer, including all types of...

What Does a CT Scan Show About Lung Cancer? Diagnosis, Accuracy, and Results

Imaging studies are an important part of diagnosing most forms of cancer, including all types of...
It is not uncommon to have more than one disease at the same time, especially when one of those ...

Cushing’s Syndrome and Lung Cancer: What’s the Connection?

It is not uncommon to have more than one disease at the same time, especially when one of those ...
As part of the diagnostic process for lung cancer, a doctor might discuss cancer cell grading. T...

Lung Cancer Grading: How Cancer Cells Look and Behave Compared With Normal Cells

As part of the diagnostic process for lung cancer, a doctor might discuss cancer cell grading. T...
Doctors frequently use X-rays during the diagnosis of lung cancer.

Lung Cancer X-Ray Photos — Examples of Different Types of Results

Doctors frequently use X-rays during the diagnosis of lung cancer.
MyLungCancerTeam My lung cancer Team

Thank you for subscribing!

Become a member to get even more:

sign up for free

close