Surgery: What to Expect
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Lung cancer treatment can be stressful. If surgery is an option for you, knowing what to expect from surgery can help ease that stress. This animated video explains different types of surgery for lung cancer and provides tips and guidance for patients preparing to have a procedure.
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When facing lung cancer, your doctor may recommend surgery. Knowing what to expect can ease some of the anxiety that comes with cancer treatment. Every person’s journey is different so be sure to speak with your doctor if you have any questions.
Before surgery, lung function tests can help doctors determine the type of procedure they might perform and if you are healthy enough for surgery.
Ask your doctor for guidelines of what to eat or drink before surgery and for medications to help ease potential discomfort.
If you smoke, it is important to quit smoking before surgery to help your body recover.
Recovery can take a lot out of you so it's important to get plenty of support.
You might want to arrange for transportation to and from appointments help with errands and time off work during your recovery.
Once you are in the operating room you will receive anesthesia and the area around the incision site will then be shaved and cleaned to help prevent infection
There are two main types of lung cancer procedures. A thoracotomy is when surgery is performed through an incision or cut between the ribs. Minimally invasive surgery involves the use of a camera and instruments to access the lung through small incisions between the ribs.
Two types of minimally invasive surgery are video-assisted thoracoscopic surgery and robotic-assisted surgery.
A Video-Assisted Thoracoscopic Surgery is when a small tube with a video camera on the end is inserted through a smaller incision.
Robotic-assisted surgery can be thought of as an extension of the surgeon’s eyes and hands. The robotic surgical system has multiple arms that hold instruments and one arm that holds a camera.
During robotic-assisted surgery, your surgeon will sit at a console next to you and operate through a few small incisions using tiny instruments, including a camera which offers high definition visualization.
Your surgeon fully controls the instruments on the robotic surgical system. The robotic-assisted surgical system translates every hand movement your surgeon makes in real-time bending and rotating the wristed instruments.
Minimally invasive surgery provides a clear magnified view with a camera. The hospital stay is often shorter though sometimes similar compared to the length of stay with an open thoracotomy.
In both types a diseased part of the lungs is removed. In rare cases, a whole lung is removed. Ask your doctor which surgery is recommended for you.
After surgery you will be moved to the recovery area and once stable to a hospital room.
Grogginess and pain are common and you may receive medication to help. Drainage tubes that were inserted during surgery will likely be removed in a few days.
A respiratory therapist might visit you and offer therapy to help improve your lung function. Before you leave the hospital make follow-up appointments and ask for recovery instructions.
Your doctor may recommend physical therapy or pulmonary rehabilitation to help you build lung strength and endurance.
As you become more active, you may notice shortness of breath. Talk to your doctor about this or any discomfort you might have. Find out if there are symptoms for which you should contact your doctor immediately.
Every person's recovery time and experience is different. But focusing on one's well-being is important for every person going through treatment. That includes getting the supportive care you need to help you with your recovery leaning on others for support to help you rest and keeping in touch with your doctor throughout the process.
Knowledge is power. By being proactive during treatment you put the power in your own hands.
Learn more at lung.org/cancer-surgery.
The American Lung Association is solely responsible for content.
Reviewed and approved by the American Lung Association Scientific and Medical Editorial Review Panel. Last reviewed November 1, 2018.
Page Last Updated: January 4, 2019