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Recovery After Lobectomy


Updated May 31, 2014

After lobectomy, you will go through a recovery period in the hospital and then at home. What can you expect after your lobectomy surgery?

When your surgery is complete, you will be taken to the recovery room where you will monitored closely for several hours. Your doctor will talk to your family about your surgery and let them know when you will be transferred to your hospital room. For the first day or so you may be monitored in the intensive care unit (ICU).

The breathing tube that allowed the ventilator to breathe for you during surgery is sometimes left in place while you are in recovery. Since this can cause some anxiety, you will be given medications that keep you very drowsy until the tube is removed – usually on the same day as your surgery.

When the ventilator is removed and you become less sleepy, a respiratory therapist will ask you to cough, and assist you in the use of an incentive spirometer. This is a device that you breathe into to exercise your lungs and help to keep the small air sacs in your lungs open.

When you are able, the nursing staff will help you sit, and then encourage you to get up and walk with assistance. You may not feel like being active, but increasing activity will help you regain your strength more quickly and reduce the risk of developing blood clots.

Your chest tube will be left in place until your surgeon feels that the drainage has stopped and no air is leaking, usually 3 to 4 days following surgery. Most people spend at least 5 to 7 days in the hospital following an open lobectomy, and 3 to 4 days following a VATS lobectomy.

Some people return to work after 6 to 8 weeks, but your doctor will give you special restrictions, such as avoiding any heavy lifting. It will also take time for your remaining lung tissue to take over, and some shortness of breath may persist for several months following surgery.

When Should I Call My Doctor?

When you are released from the hospital, you will be given careful instructions on how to care for yourself at home, and instructions on when to follow-up with your doctor. Between appointments, you should call your doctor if you have any symptoms or questions that concern you. Call your doctor right away if you develop a fever, have chest pain that is different from what you have been experiencing, become more short of breath, have any bleeding or redness near your incision, or if you develop any pain in your calves (possible blood clots).

Further Reading


American Cancer Society. Detailed Guide: Lung Cancer – Non-Small Cell. Surgery. Updated 12/16/10. http://www.cancer.org/cancer/lungcancer-non-smallcell/detailedguide/non-small-cell-lung-cancer-treating-surgery

Erhunmwunsee, L. and M. Onaitis. Smoking cessation and the success of lung cancer surgery. Current Oncology Reports. 2009. 11(4):269-74.

Sawada, S. et al. Comparison in prognosis after VATS lobectomy and open lobectomy for stage I lung cancer. Surgical Endoscopy. 2007. 21(9):1607-11.

Whitson, B. et al. Surgery for early-stage non-small cell lung cancer: a systematic review of the video-assisted thoracoscopy surgery versus thoracotomy applications to lobectomy. Annals of Thoracic Surgery. 2008. 86(6):2008-16.

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