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What to Expect Following Lung Cancer Surgery

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Depending on the stage of the disease, and the location and size of the tumor, you may be a candidate for lung cancer surgery. There are a few approaches and each is based on the growth of the abnormal mass.

If the tumor has not yet spread past a small portion of your lung, a surgeon can perform a wedge resection to remove it. If the mass has grown, but remains within a single lobe, a lobectomy can be performed. In the event that cancerous cells spread throughout the affected lung, yet have not metastasized beyond it, a surgeon may be able to do a pneumonectomy.

Even if the surgeon performs these operations using minimally invasive techniques, there will still be postoperative pain. Moreover, there will also be a chance of complications. This is the case for all types of surgeries. This article will describe what you can expect as you recover from lung cancer surgery and eventually resume your normal activity level.

The First Few Days Following The Operation

Immediately following the operation, you'll be placed into a recovery ward. Nurses and therapists will encourage you to move around as soon as you are able. The reason they do this is to prevent blood clots from forming.

You will likely have a chest tube installed and connected to an IV. The purpose of this tube is to keep your lungs filled with air while draining fluids that accumulate. It is usually removed within a week.

Your doctor will prescribe medications to control the pain, which may be severe during the first two or three days after surgery. While the pain's intensity will decline quickly, expect to feel discomfort for a few weeks.

While you are recovering in the hospital, the medical staff will also encourage you to perform breathing exercises. These are important to help your lungs regain their function. When your doctor is certain you are ready to complete your recovery at home, you will be released from the hospital.

Potential Problems That May Arise

Following surgery, patients often experience an air leak from the affected lung. The air leaks from the lung into the chest cavity. Depending on the size of the leak, the air can eventually cause sufficient pressure within the chest cavity to collapse the lung.

This is one of reasons the chest tube is installed and left in place during the first few days of your recovery. It compensates for the leak. If the tube is removed prior to the leak resolving itself, pressure will result.

Infection also poses a risk. The surgical team will do everything possible to prevent it from occurring, but it can still happen. The key is identifying it and treating it (with antibiotics) before it spreads.

Bleeding - internal or external - can develop if a wound was not closed properly or opens after the operation. Here too, detecting the problem as early as possible is critical.

Regaining Your Normal Activity Level

The time required to return to your preoperative activity level will depend on a few factors. Your overall health plays a key role as does the type of lung cancer surgery you experienced. If you led an active lifestyle prior to undergoing surgery, you will likely need less time to recover. Similarly, making a full recovery following a wedge resection will take less time than recovering from a pneumonectomy.

You can expect to return to your work within four to eight weeks, assuming your job is not physically demanding. Within twelve weeks, you should be able to participate in most of the activities you enjoyed prior to surgery.

Non-small cell lung cancer is operable as long as it is diagnosed in its early stages. Realize, however, that surgery is followed by a recovery period that can last for several weeks. Consult your doctor to determine an approach that makes sense for your condition.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR: ELIZABETH L PERKINS
Find the right doctor for lung cancer surgery or check out other Health Facts. Early diagnosis can lead to successful results

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