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What to Expect After Surgery for Lung Cancer

After surgery, you may have to stay in the hospital for a few days. How long you must stay depends on these things:

  • How much of your lung was removed

  • How extensive the surgery was

  • How well you begin to recover from the surgery

Here’s an overview of how you might feel after lung surgery:

  • For the first few days, you are likely to have pain from the incision, or cut. Your pain can be controlled with medicine. Talk with your doctor or nurse about your options for pain relief. Some people are hesitant to take pain medication, but doing so can actually help your healing. If you don’t control pain well, for example, you may not want to cough or turn over often, which you need to do as you recover from surgery.

  • You may have tubes in your chest to drain the wound.

  • You may feel tired or weak for a while. The amount of time it takes to recover from an operation is different for each person.

  • You may have trouble breathing for several days or weeks until your body adjusts. A physical or respiratory therapist can teach you exercises to make breathing easier.

  • You may feel pain or weakness in your arm or chest.

  • It is important for people who have had surgery to cough, breathe deeply, and turn over more often while in bed. Doing this helps prevent complications after surgery.

  • You may have constipation from using pain medicine, from not moving much, or from not eating much. Talk with your doctor or nurse about getting more dietary fiber or using stool softeners or stimulants to help you avoid constipation.

Depending on the results of the surgery, you may have either chemotherapy or radiation afterwards. The goal is to reduce the chance that any cells that may remain won’t spread. Having another type of treatment soon after surgery is called adjuvant therapy.

Online Medical Reviewer: Freeborn, Donna, PhD, CNM, FNP
Online Medical Reviewer: MMI board-certified, academically affiliated clinician
Last Review Date: 11/15/2013
© 2013 Krames StayWell, 780 Township Line Road, Yardley, PA 19067. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare provider's instructions.

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