What is lung resection?

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Lung resection: Overview

Lung resection is surgery to remove part or all of your lung. It is used to treat a damaged or diseased lung.

To do the surgery, the doctor makes a cut in your chest wall. This cut is called an incision. If the doctor can't spread your ribs enough to do the surgery, then he or she may also make a cut through a rib or your breastbone (sternum). After the doctor removes the diseased parts of your lung, he or she closes the incision with stitches or staples. If the breastbone was cut, the doctor uses wire to hold the pieces of bone together.

Most people spend 3 to 7 days in the hospital. After surgery, your chest will feel very sore. But you will get pain medicine to help with this. The medicine will allow you to breathe deeply and be as active as possible. Both of these things will help you heal more quickly. You will probably need to take at least 1 to 2 months off from work.

It's important not to smoke or allow others to smoke around you. If you need help quitting, talk to your doctor about stop-smoking programs and medicines. These can increase your chances of quitting for good.

How can you care for yourself after a lung resection?

Activity

  • Rest when you feel tired. Getting enough sleep will help you recover.
  • Try to walk each day. Start by walking a little more than you did the day before. Bit by bit, increase the amount you walk. Walking boosts blood flow and helps prevent pneumonia and constipation.
  • Avoid strenuous activities, such as bicycle riding, jogging, weight lifting, or aerobic exercise, for 6 to 8 weeks, or until your doctor says it is okay. Also for 6 to 8 weeks, avoid swimming, tennis, golf, or other activities that could strain your arm and shoulder muscles.
  • For 6 to 8 weeks, avoid lifting anything over 5 pounds or that would make you strain. This may include a child, heavy grocery bags and milk containers, a heavy briefcase or backpack, cat litter or dog food bags, or a vacuum cleaner.
  • You may be able to take showers (unless you have a drain near your incision). If you have a drain, follow your doctor's instructions to empty and care for it. Do not take a bath for the first 2 weeks, or until your doctor tells you it is okay.
  • Ask your doctor when you can drive again.
  • You will probably need to take 1 to 2 months off from work. It depends on the type of work you do and how you feel.
  • Do not fly in an airplane or dive deeply (such as in scuba diving) until your doctor tells you it is okay. Avoid any situations where there is increased air pressure.

Diet

  • You can eat your normal diet. If your stomach is upset, try bland, low-fat foods like plain rice, broiled chicken, toast, and yogurt.
  • Ask your doctor how much fluid you should drink.
  • You may notice that your bowel movements are not regular right after your surgery. This is common. Try to avoid constipation and straining with bowel movements. You may want to take a fiber supplement every day. If you have not had a bowel movement after a couple of days, ask your doctor about taking a mild laxative.

Medicines

  • Your doctor will tell you if and when you can restart your medicines. You will also get instructions about taking any new medicines.
  • If you stopped taking aspirin or some other blood thinner, your doctor will tell you when to start taking it again.
  • Be safe with medicines. Take pain medicines exactly as directed.
    • If the doctor gave you a prescription medicine for pain, take it as prescribed.
    • If you are not taking a prescription pain medicine, ask your doctor if you can take an over-the-counter medicine.
  • If you think your pain medicine is making you sick to your stomach:
    • Take your medicine after meals (unless your doctor has told you not to).
    • Ask your doctor for a different pain medicine.
  • If your doctor prescribed antibiotics, take them as directed. Do not stop taking them just because you feel better. You need to take the full course of antibiotics.

Incision care

  • If you have strips of tape on the incision, leave the tape on for a week or until it falls off.
  • Wash the area daily with warm, soapy water and pat it dry. Other cleaning products, such as hydrogen peroxide, can make the wound heal more slowly. You may cover the area with a gauze bandage if it weeps or rubs against clothing. Change the bandage every day.
  • Keep the area clean and dry.
  • Wear clean, loose clothing over your incision.

Exercise

  • To help keep your lungs clear, cough and do deep breathing exercises as instructed by your doctor, nurse, or respiratory therapist.
  • Your doctor may send you home with an incentive spirometer. This is a device that helps you practice taking deep breaths. This can help keep your lungs healthy.
  • Ask your doctor about shoulder exercises to keep the muscles near your chest strong and flexible.

Other instructions

  • Do not smoke or allow others to smoke around you. If you need help quitting, talk to your doctor about stop-smoking programs and medicines. These can increase your chances of quitting for good.
  • Try to avoid being around people who have a cold, the flu, or other illnesses.

How do you prepare for a lung resection?

Surgery can be stressful. This information will help you understand what you can expect. And it will help you safely prepare for surgery.

Preparing for surgery

  • Be sure you have someone to take you home. Anesthesia and pain medicine will make it unsafe for you to drive or get home on your own.
  • Understand exactly what surgery is planned, along with the risks, benefits, and other options.
  • If you take a medicine that prevents blood clots, your doctor may tell you to stop taking it before your surgery. Or your doctor may tell you to keep taking it. (These medicines include aspirin and other blood thinners.) Make sure that you understand exactly what your doctor wants you to do.
  • Tell your doctor ALL the medicines, vitamins, supplements, and herbal remedies you take. Some may increase the risk of problems during your surgery. Your doctor will tell you if you should stop taking any of them before the surgery and how soon to do it.
  • Make sure your doctor and the hospital have a copy of your advance directive. If you don’t have one, you may want to prepare one. It lets others know your health care wishes. It’s a good thing to have before any type of surgery or procedure.

After lung resection: When to call

Call 911 anytime you think you may need emergency care. For example, call if:

  • You passed out (lost consciousness).
  • You have severe trouble breathing.
  • You have sudden chest pain and shortness of breath, or you cough up blood.

Call your doctor now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • You are sick to your stomach or cannot keep fluids down.
  • You have pain that does not get better after you take pain medicine.
  • You have a fever over 100°F.
  • You have signs of infection, such as:
    • Increased pain, swelling, warmth, or redness.
    • Red streaks leading from the incision.
    • Pus draining from the incision.
    • Swollen lymph nodes in your neck, armpits, or groin.
    • A fever.
  • You have loose stitches, or your incision comes open.
  • Bright red blood has soaked through the bandage over your incision.
  • You cough up a lot more mucus than normal, or the mucus changes color.

Watch closely for any changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor if:

  • Fluid leaks around the drain in your chest, or you have a sudden increase in the amount of fluid that comes out of the drain.

Lung Surgery: Returning Home

Lung Surgery

Picture of three types of lung surgery

Three types of lung surgery differ by how much lung tissue is removed.

  • Wedge resection (also called a segmentectomy): A wedge-shaped section of the affected lung is removed.
  • Lobectomy: The affected lobe of the lung is removed.
  • Pneumonectomy: The entire affected lung is removed.

Sometimes cancer grows in the bronchus, which is the part of the trachea (windpipe) that branches off into each lung. Surgery to remove part of the bronchus is called a sleeve resection.

What happens on the day of a lung resection?

  • Follow the instructions exactly about when to stop eating and drinking. If you don't, your surgery may be canceled. If your doctor told you to take your medicines on the day of surgery, take them with only a sip of water.
  • Follow your doctor's instructions about when to bathe or shower before your surgery. Do not apply lotions, perfumes, deodorants, or nail polish.
  • Do not shave the surgical site yourself.
  • Take off all jewelry and piercings. And take out contact lenses, if you wear them.

At the hospital or surgery center

  • Bring a picture ID.
  • The area for surgery is often marked to make sure there are no errors.
  • You will be kept comfortable and safe by your anesthesia provider. You will be asleep during the surgery.
  • The surgery will take about 2 to 4 hours.
  • You may stay in the ICU for 1 or 2 days.
  • You will have a tube down your throat during surgery. The tube will help you breathe. It will probably be removed before you are fully awake.
  • You will probably have one or two tubes coming out of your chest. These tubes drain fluid and air so that your lungs can expand again after surgery. They will be removed before you go home.
  • You may have an epidural catheter. This is a tiny tube that puts pain medicine directly into the area in your back around your spinal cord. It helps prevent pain after surgery.

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