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What To Expect Before, During, And After A Lobectomy

By Ryan Robinson

When non-small cell lung cancer is in its early stages, it remains localized within the affected lung. If the disease is diagnosed before it spreads throughout the lung, it can often be resolved with a lobectomy. This is a procedure during which a single lobe of your lung is removed, and with it, the diseased tissue.

Lobectomies can be performed either through open surgery (i.e. thoracotomy) or with minimally invasive techniques. The latter approach is performed with video-assisted thoracoscopic surgery (VATS). Below, we’ll describe the events leading up to a lobectomy, what occurs during the procedure, and what you can expect while you recover.

The Days Leading Up To Lung Cancer Surgery

Prior to surgery, your physician will conduct several tests. First, he or she will need to make sure the cancer has not metastasized outside the targeted lobe. If it has, it may be necessary to remove two lobes (known as a bilobectomy) or the entire lung (a pneumonectomy).

Next, your doctor will perform a physical examination and order blood tests. He or she will also test your pulmonary function to ensure the remaining lung tissue following the lobectomy can support your normal breathing. In some cases, your physician may also check the condition of your heart to confirm your body can handle the operation.

Because medications can increase the risk of complications, you’ll need to notify your doctor regarding any drugs you’re currently taking. This includes medications acquired by prescription and those purchased over-the-counter.

You’ll be asked to avoid eating or drinking the night prior to surgery. When you arrive at the hospital on the morning of the operation, you’ll be connected to monitors that will track your vital signs during the procedure.

How The Affected Lobe Is Removed

If your surgeon is performing an open lobectomy, he or she will make a long incision into your chest. To gain access to the affected lung, your ribs will be spread apart; a few may be removed temporarily to provide the surgeon with ample working space. Once blood flow to the lobe has been stopped, the lobe is cut away and withdrawn through the incision. A chest tube is usually inserted to drain the area of fluids.

If your surgeon uses VATS to perform the lobectomy, three or four smaller incisions are made into the sides of your chest. A flexible instrument known as a thorascope is inserted through one of these incisions. The thorascope has a small video camera on its tip that sends images of your chest cavity back to your surgeon. Other surgical instruments are inserted to stop blood flow to the targeted lobe and remove it. Note that there is no need to spread or remove the ribs during a VATS lobectomy.

Recovering After The Procedure Is Completed

Once the diseased lobe has been removed, you will spend a day or two in an intensive care unit. You will then be transferred to a normal room to continue your recovery. Your nurse or doctor will encourage you to use an incentive spirometer to work your lungs and keep the alveoli (i.e. tiny air sacs) inflated. You will also be encouraged to sit up, stand, and walk as soon as possible. Doing so will accelerate your recovery and minimize the risk of blood clots.

Expect to remain in the hospital for up to seven days following an open procedure. If you undergo a minimally invasive VATS lobectomy, you may be released in as few as three days to complete your recovery at home.

A growing number of surgeons are learning to perform lobectomies using minimally invasive techniques, such as VATS. Not only is the recovery period shorter, but there is usually less pain and less likelihood of complications.

finding the right doctor for cardiac surgery or vascular surgery is crucial.

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Article Citation
MLA Style Citation:
Robinson, Ryan "What To Expect Before, During, And After A Lobectomy." What To Expect Before, During, And After A Lobectomy. 21 Jun. 2010. 26 Dec 2014 <>.

APA Style Citation:
Robinson, R (2010, June 21). What To Expect Before, During, And After A Lobectomy. Retrieved December 26, 2014, from

Chicago Style Citation:
Robinson, Ryan "What To Expect Before, During, And After A Lobectomy"

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