Surgery for lung cancer

People with early non-small cell lung cancer (stage I or II) will generally be offered surgery to remove the tumour. How much of the lung is removed depends on the location of the cancer, its size, your general wellbeing and fitness, as well as your lung function.

Lung cancer is usually diagnosed at a later stage once it has caused symptoms, so most people with lung cancer will not have surgery.

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Types of lung surgery

Surgery for lung cancer may remove all or part of a lung.



  A lobe of the lung is removed.



  One whole lung is removed.

Wedge resection

Wedge resection

  Only part of the lobe is removed.

Removing lymph nodes

During surgery, nearby lymph nodes will also be removed to see whether the cancer has spread. Knowing if the cancer has spread to the lymph nodes also helps the doctors decide whether you need further treatment with chemotherapy or radiation therapy.

How the surgery is done

The surgery can be done in different ways. Talk to your surgeon about the best approach in your case.


If a cut is made between the ribs in the side of the chest, the operation is called a thoracotomy. You will need to stay in hospital for 3–7 days.


It’s becoming more common for lung surgery to be done with a keyhole approach. This is known as video-assisted thoracoscopic surgery (VATS). The surgeon makes a few small cuts in the chest wall, inserts a tiny video camera and operating instruments, and performs the operation from outside the chest. A keyhole approach usually means a shorter hospital stay, faster recovery and fewer side effects.

What to expect after surgery

Tubes and drips

You will have several tubes in place, which will be removed as you recover. A drip inserted into a vein in your arm (intravenous drip) will give you fluid, medicines and pain relief. There may be one or two temporary tubes in your chest to drain fluid and/or air from your chest cavity.


Some degree of pain or discomfort is common after surgery, but this can be controlled. Managing the pain will help you to recover and move around more quickly, and allow you to do your breathing exercises. Pain relief may also help clear phlegm from your chest.

Recovery time

You will probably go home after 3–7 days, but it may take 6–12 weeks to resume your usual routine and activities. Your treatment team will explain how to manage at home. Walking can improve fitness, clear your lungs and speed up recovery.


Gentle exercises as part of a pulmonary rehabilitation program will help improve breathlessness and reduce the risk of developing a chest infection. The hospital physiotherapist will show you how to do these exercises. To continue with a pulmonary rehabilitation program after you leave hospital, talk to your surgeon or visit Lung Foundation Australia.

Video: What is surgery?

Watch this short video to learn more about surgery.

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Apple devices

The iBooks application must be installed on your Apple device before you can read the EPUB.
Different ways to download an EPUB file to your Apple device:

  • email EPUB files to yourself and transfer the attachment to iBooks.
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To download an EPUB file to your Kobo from a Windows computer:

  • download and save the EPUB directly onto your desktop.
  • connect your Kobo to your computer using the USB cable and tap “Connect” on your eReader.
  • select “Open folder to view files” to view the contents of your Kobo.
  • navigate to where you have stored your EPUB file in “Finder”, in documents or downloads, and drag and drop it into the Kobo window. You can now disconnect your Kobo to read the eBook.

To download an EPUB to your Kobo from a Mac:

  • download and save the EPUB directly onto your desktop.
  • connect your Kobo to your computer using the USB cable and tap “Connect” on your eReader.
  • open your “Finder” application.
  • select “Kobo eReader” from the listed devices to view the contents of your Kobo.
  • navigate to where you have stored your EPUB file in “Finder”, probably in documents or downloads, and drag and drop it into the Kobo window. You can now disconnect your Kobo to read the eBook.

Turn on your Kobo and your EPUB will be located in “eBooks”, while a PDF will be located in “Documents”.
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Sony Reader

To download an EPUB file on your Sony Reader™:

  • ensure you have already installed the Reader™ Library for PC/Mac software
  • select the eBook you want from our website and click the link to download it.
  • connect the Reader™ to your computer.
  • open the Reader™ Library software and click “Library” in the left-hand pane and select the eBook to view it.

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Amazon Kindle 2nd Generation devices

EPUB files can’t be read on the Amazon Kindle™. However, like most eReaders, Kindle™ 2nd Generation devices are able to display PDFs. We recommend that you download the PDF version of this booklet if you would like to read it on a Kindle™.
To transfer a PDF to your Kindle™ via USB cable from your computer or Mac:

  • download the PDF directly onto your computer.
  • connect the USB cable to your computer’s USB port, and the micro USB end of the cable to your Kindle™. Note: the Kindle™ won’t be available as a reading device while it is connected to your computer until it has been disconnected.
  • open the Kindle™ drive and several folders will appear inside. The “Documents” folder is where you will need to copy or drag the PDF to.
  • safely eject your Kindle™ from your computer and unplug the USB cable. Your content will appear on the Home Screen.

Kindle also provides a Kindle Personal Documents Service that allows users to send documents as an attachment directly to your eReader. For more information on this service, visit
For more information on accessing a PDF on your Kindle™, visit, log in to your account and click on Personal Document Settings.
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Android and PC

You can also download and open eBooks on Android devices and PCs with appropriate apps or software installed. Suitable eReader apps for Android include Google Play Books, FBReader and Moon+ Reader. Suitable software for PCs include Calibre and Adobe Digital Editions.

This information was last reviewed in November 2018
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Coping with cancer?
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Cancer information

Learn more about surgery and recovering from it

Making cancer treatment decisions
Decision-making steps, consent and second opinions

Deciding on specialist care
How to find and choose a surgeon, oncologist or other specialist