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Lynne Eldridge MD

Quality of Life After Lung Cancer Surgery

By April 24, 2012

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Surgery for lung cancer offers a chance for a cure - something that is unfortunately uncommon with lung cancer. But in offering that chance, we don't often talk about what happens in the long run after surgery. A time we now call "survivorship."


How good is quality of life over the long run for people who have had lung cancer surgery?

The results of a new study are - fortunately - not what I would have expected. And they left me feeling very encouraged and optimistic for people whose lung cancers are found in the early stages when surgery is possible.

Researchers took a look at 830 disease-free lung cancer survivors (disease free meaning that no evidence of cancer can be found on exam or through imaging studies.) All of these survivors had stage 0 to stage 3 lung cancer that was treated with surgery.

Comparing this group to people without lung cancer (the general population) they found that there wasn't a significant difference in functioning. Fortunately, there also was no significant difference in most of the symptoms experienced by the two groups.

As would be expected, lung cancer survivors who underwent surgery did have more shortness of breath, coughing and chest wall pain, and also experienced more financial problems.

What this study offers is good news for those people who are preparing for lung cancer surgery. Not only might it grant the chance for a cure, but symptoms and general functioning after the surgery are similar to those people who haven't had lung cancer surgery.

Photo: National Cancer Institute, unknown photographer


Yun, Y. et al. Health-Related Quality of Life in Disease-Free Survivors of Surgically Treated Lung Cancer Compared With the General Population. Annals of Surgery. 2012 Mar 30. (Epub ahead of print).

April 30, 2012 at 7:18 pm
(1) John says:

I am a twelve year survivor of 3A NSCLC. I had the lower two lobes removed. I was 39 when this all happened.
I do get winded easily but with what the alternatives are and we all know them. I am blessed to be here. I try to stay upbeat and positive for all the other lung cancer patients out there. Never stop fighting and neither will I.

May 1, 2012 at 11:39 pm
(2) Wendy Jackson says:

I am a 18mth survivor.
Left lung removed ..Sept 2010…
I am a singer and do this regularly (most days) I can’t walk around and sing…but I sit and sing…Walking is hard for me,and I get quite breathless if I have to walk too far.
I agree with John (comment above) you have to get on with life…and try to help those worse off than you….
I just wish we had the funding and support that MOST other cancers have…..

Always Fighting…..

May 3, 2012 at 1:25 am
(3) Lori says:

I am an 11 yr survivor of stage 4 lc and have now had 6 thoracotomies for lc. While I’m grateful to still be here, my quality of life has been severely impacted. The left lower lobe is gone, most the left upper lobe, too. I have a chronic pneumo on the left side. I have severe Parkin on the left side that wobbles between significant to unbearable. The right upper lobe is gone, the right middle love has a wedge out of it, and the right lower lobe has had 2 wedges carved out. Surprising, I have very little pain from the right side and most my breathing comes from there. Still, I’ve been here for 11 years. I just miss a normal life and being able to breathe. I can’t even remember what ‘painless’ feels like.

December 14, 2012 at 11:30 pm
(4) marty says:

i had advanced cancer and had left lung removed july 2010 i have been walking around 2 and a half miles to 3 miles which takes about 45 minutes . last 2 times i walked i had to stop frequently and cut the route short .i just get real out of breath every block i gotta rest . i cant figure why i declined in ability like that . also getting nuerapathy in my left foot .

January 8, 2013 at 2:30 pm
(5) R. Millard says:

I had my left upper LUng removed August 2012, and am still very sore and week. Like “Wendy”

April 10, 2013 at 12:47 pm
(6) Ilona Matheny says:

I had stage 3a lung cancer. I had the upper lobe of the right lung removed andthe second surgery was the left lung had nodigals removed and now i am on chemo meds because they found on the second surgery what type of cancer i have. I am hoping these meds will keep my cancer gone for ever. I always keep my faith up.

August 3, 2013 at 3:00 pm
(7) Linda says:

I had 1/3 of the right lung removed and f/u chemo in 2005. In May of this year I had the remaining right lung removed. I have difficulty swallowing and a chronic, almost constant cough. Has anyone experienced this? I am unable to work out much because it increases the cough. I just don’t know where to turn for help.

August 27, 2013 at 4:11 pm
(8) paul morin says:

I just had the top right lung lobe removed 7/18/13. I began chemo 1 of 4 session on aug 20.2013. I am now also told I may need follow up with radiation 5 days 20 mins for 5 weeks.O, Now I’m a bit confused.
Shortness of breath I have to but short walks and take it easy doing that
really helps.Stay POSITVE!!

September 18, 2013 at 8:56 pm
(9) Anna says:

I had Stage 3b nsclc and had my upper right lobe removed in july of 2012. I had chemo and radiation before and after surgery. A year out I still have pain in the scar area and short of breath but other than that doing fine. Always keep a positive attitude, they told me not a canidate for surgery, but they were wrong. So if you are just learning you have this type of cancer remember that the doctors can only give you statics and that you are a person not a statistic. Keep a good outlook, it helps alot

September 20, 2013 at 9:49 pm
(10) mary says:

god bless everyone of you.my brother has sarcoma of the lung and has one and a half lobe from the right he has a terrible cough and no appetite, J am scared he is going to die the cancer is also in the kidney

I will keep you in my prayers
Keep the faith , you don’t deserve this suffering

October 25, 2013 at 6:37 am
(11) val says:

Had My Rt. Lower lobe removed due to stage 1 lung cancer in 2010. There are days where my breathing is fine when walking and then there are days i walk a few feet and I am totally out of breath. Does anyone know if scar tissue on the remaining lung. Can it cause problems with breathing?

October 25, 2013 at 6:52 am
(12) val says:

I still have issues with breathing on and off. I cannot go up stairs. If i do i am out of breath very quickly. I had no chemo or radiation because they said all the cancer was removed when taking my right lower lobe. There was a time i felt i was starting to walk and not have breathing issues, but now i do. I have days where i walk and I am not breathless and then other days where i have to stop many times to catch my breath. Anyone know why? I really do not always know when this will happen. I am overweight, but I have been walking but the breathing issue affects that, at times, when walking. does scar tissue on the remaing lung affect breathing?

November 23, 2013 at 5:23 pm
(13) maureen says:

hi i am a lucky mom who was diagnosed with stage 1 lung Ca. im told catching it as early as I did was uncommon and somewhat of a miracle. I am just about 3 weeks post op removal of my right lower lobe. I googled how to start running again after lung surgery and in doing so stumbled on to this site/blog. I began reading and reading and realize I am not alone. I pray normally but now I pray with thanks and will automatically keep you all in my prayers….I want to know how to be myself again. I was a runner but also very active with other things. My work as a physical therapist is taxing and so wont be back there too soon. I want to know when I will stop coughing, when can I breath deep…I get scared when I gasp for air and I try not to tell anyone.Being a lucky ,unlucky person is not easy, physically and emotionally. prayers to all of you. maureen

December 18, 2013 at 2:49 pm
(14) Tammy says:

Please read and share.

December 18, 2013 at 8:19 pm
(15) marie says:

I had a lower right lobe lobectomy 2 20 0f 12 im very petite and the surgeon destroyed my intercostal nerves on that side causing pain 24 7 that ive had since and will never go away plus I did not have cancer as they insisted I did now my life consists of crying from pain countless times per day it feels like a burning fist sits behind my ribcage I cant sit cant lie on my right side or back as it shoots nauseating pain thru to the front even worse ive lost the use of my right arm if I try to use it my pain goes on overdrive oh and driving that a thing of the past just sitting kills me I have to sit leaning towards the left without putting any pressure on my back ive lost most of my friends since I cant tolerate daily life as it should be my advice GET THREE OPINIONS please is there anyone out there that has had this happen to them? oh the best part is the horrific cryo ablation I now have had twice in less than two years so that im able to swallow food and drink because my diaphragm is controlled by one of the nerves that’s damaged for the rest of my life pain killers don not begin to ease it somedays I beg GOD to make it me or the pain to go away

December 25, 2013 at 10:24 pm
(16) Kat Bird says:

I had my right upper lobe removed 7-23-2013(now 5 months ago) due to stage 2 lung cancer. I get shooting pains when i wear a bra or bend down , the pain is not constant, I feel blessed to still be alive and I’m still sore from below my breast to around half of my back, however, the soreness is tolerable. It was almost unbearable for the first month. I can’t ride my horse yet, maybe in the spring. The cold weather seems to make me hurt more, and when the barometer changes it causes me to hurt more also. I am able to take deep breathes and I don’t get shortness of breathe too often. I think i’m doing very well and had a very good doctor, thank you GOD and praise you

January 1, 2014 at 7:35 pm
(17) Claire says:

I had my left lung removed in September 2011 after chemo & radiation. I still have some numbness under left breast & around back. Uncomfortable but ok. I just wish that doctors were more up front in telling patients that this discomfort & sometimes pain will be forever. I am ok with that but I did not know it & thought something was wrong with me! I am told that some surgeons don’t believe that the pain does not go away. Interesting!!

January 5, 2014 at 11:03 am
(18) Karen says:

I had surgery on my left upper lobe in Oct of 2013. It turned out not to be cancer. I am left with this horrible numbness under my breast and around to the back. If I had known this don`t know if I would have done the surgery. Does anyone have any idea how to cope with this pain. The doctors seem to ignore the fact that it is there. Wish I could be strong like most of you.

January 10, 2014 at 4:37 pm
(19) katharine says:

Karen. Its the nerves that were cut under you breast. As they heal it hurts. Aspercream is great also ask. your doctor for lidocaine patches.

January 23, 2014 at 9:02 am
(20) Rita says:

Karen, like you I had upper left lobectomy in July 2009. Traditional surgery, Stage 1. It was cancer. No chemo or radiation before or after. Still in pain every day, under breast & around the back. Surgeon never said anything about this. I have seen at least 6 Drs. Nothing they can do. I am lucky to be alive, but I would just like to feel normal again!

January 31, 2014 at 9:39 am
(21) Wendy Jackson says:

Hey All…I am now 4 years this coming September …I still have trouble breathing… (1 Lung) but just take it easier.
Wishing you all well…..
The new “Normal” sux but better than the alternative….

February 16, 2014 at 11:35 am
(22) lady5555 says:

I had lung cancer surgery in november 2012. I stayed in icu until dec12. I came home took 4 rounds of chemo for prevention. I use to feel like i had a leather vest wrapped around me now the pain is under my left breast and side. I had my upper left lung removed. Now i have this everlasting pain under my left breast and side. Drs. Say its my nerves healing. My breathing is fine some days i now have copd. I have vocal cord paralysis. I sound like a little girl when i talk people can now understand me when i speak they tell me. I am happy for my life but the effects on my life and body are something else. I think my family and friends think i should get over it.

February 16, 2014 at 11:49 pm
(23) Lamon Hayhurst says:

I had my upper right removed 2 years ago. I think that since I was a smoker for 42 years I am very lucky and I think that copd is one of the main reason most have trouble after surgery.

February 27, 2014 at 11:25 am
(24) lin deahl says:

I am reading this on behalf of my best friend who has just be diagnosed with stage 1 lc. the workup is still in progress. For those of you with nerve damage and pain- in addition to all you do I suggest Hypnosis. It works for pain in many situations and it can not harm you in any way. Back in the 40′ and 50′s hypnosis was used as dental anesthesia and people didn’t feel a thing. My husband had similar nerve damage from a hip replacement- he takes Lyrica and in time is better.

March 8, 2014 at 2:01 pm
(25) Steve says:

My husband had his left lower lung removed.in May of2013. Was in pain untll they found 2 small spots on the right lung. Once he started chem his pain went away because of the steroids he took but since stopping chemo his pain is back and pain pills don’t help. We have a hot tub and that helps some and we have a tense unit that also helps. Prayers for all. The pain can wear one out. Joelene

April 2, 2014 at 8:43 am
(26) Marauder says:

My husband had his left lung removed Sept 2012, he had pain daily and then we found a Pain Clinic in FL that did an ultrasound to find the subscapular nerve and numbed the area and gave him 4 injections to numb him internally. His pain has subsided and his muscles have relaxed so that he breathes easier and recovers faster after walking daily. He still has several mornings of terrible gagging and that we haven’t found a treatment for yet.

April 19, 2014 at 9:53 pm
(27) Debra says:

I was diagnosed in 2012 with lung. Cancer. Grand Forks cancer center said I had maybe a year left so we were making arragemnents for clinical trials and chemo…The I.got a phone call from the Mayo Center Dr Nicolas asking me if I could be in Rochester by Monday that he believed he could do the surgery!!! So Monday morning we went to the mayo…they removed my left lung on June 28th 2012…Had a long road to go…but if I keep exersicing some I do get winded but I rest and get going again. I have to…Iam not letting go of my other lung. Stairs are hard for I get very short wined. But lately I am having. Nuerathepy on three toes on both feet (outside three on both) I have fallen three times so far….I am afraid of falling . I also am having trouble with ear since chemo,it keeps plugging ,,got vertvo for 3weeks in Feb. I dont understand these side effects so long after chemo.
Side effects….pain in rib from bacck and under front breast
Nerothopy of feet
Hot chases that make my ears plug and nose run

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