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.
Learn more about:
- Types of lung surgery
- Removing lymph nodes
- How the surgery is done
- What to expect after surgery
- Video: What is 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.|
||Only part of the lobe is removed.|
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.
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.
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.
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?
Dr Henry Marshall, Thoracic Physician, The University of Queensland Thoracic Research Centre, The Prince Charles Hospital, QLD; Dr Naveed Alam, Thoracic Surgeon, St Vincent’s Melbourne and Epworth Richmond Hospitals, VIC; A/Prof Martin Borg, Radiation Oncologist, GenesisCare, SA; Dr Lisa Briggs, Consumer; Kirsten Mooney, Thoracic Cancer Nurse Coordinator, WA Cancer & Palliative Care Network, WA; Claire Mulvihill, Lung Cancer Support Nurse, Lung Foundation Australia; Caitriona Nienaber, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council WA; A/Prof Nick Pavlakis, President, Australasian Lung Cancer Trials Group, President Elect, Clinical Oncology Society of Australia, and Senior Staff Specialist, Department of Medical Oncology, Royal North Shore Hospital, NSW. We also thank the health professionals, consumers and editorial teams who have worked on previous editions of this title.
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