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What Should I Expect After Lung Cancer Surgery?

Doctor speaking with patient about lung cancer surgery.

As you prepare for lung cancer surgery, you may be wondering what you can expect in the days and weeks that follow your procedure. The length and nature of your recovery will depend on a variety of factors, including the type of surgery you receive and the unique way in which your body responds to the treatment. Therefore, your most valuable source of information is the surgeon who will perform your procedure. He or she is in the best position to provide you with individualized advice and guidance.

With that said, the surgeons in the Thoracic Oncology Program at Moffitt Cancer Center can provide some general guidance on what you might expect after lung cancer surgery. You can use this information as a basis for your planning and personal research before you talk with your surgeon.

Recovering from lung cancer surgery

Lung cancer surgery is a major operation, and recovery can take weeks or months. After leaving the hospital, it’s crucial to have a plan for the recovery process. That may involve having family and friends to help out with household chores or making sure to take regular walks in the fresh air. You’ll also want to be aware of what to expect in the coming weeks as you recover. Here’s an overview of what you may experience after lung cancer surgery:

  • Discomfort – In the first few days that follow your procedure, you may have some pain in the area around your incision, as well as in your chest and arm. Your surgeon can explain the best ways to control any discomfort. Some people are hesitant to take pain medications, but doing so can actually aid the recovery process, so it’s important to follow your surgeon’s instructions.
  • Fatigue – You may feel weak, disoriented and tired after your lung cancer surgery. There are several possible reasons for this. First, you may already be dealing with a sleep deficit due to pre-surgical anxiety. Second, you will probably be advised to fast before your procedure, which can cause drowsiness and muscle weakness. Third, you may be prescribed medications that can cause drowsiness as a potential side effect. And finally, your body may naturally trigger a fatigue response after an operation to encourage you to rest and heal.
  • Breathing difficulties – As your body adjusts to its post-surgical state, you may find that you have trouble breathing. A physical therapist or respiratory therapist can explain how to perform some exercises to help you breathe easier.
  • Constipation – Infrequent bowel movements and hard, dry stools are common side effects of certain pain medications. Plus, you may not be eating much or moving around immediately after your lung cancer surgery. Your physician can suggest ways to increase your dietary fiber and recommend stool softeners or stimulants to help you avoid becoming constipated.

Medically reviewed by Dr. Eric Toloza

If you have general questions about what you can expect as you recover from lung cancer surgery, the experts in our Thoracic Oncology Program can help. Call Moffitt Cancer Center at 1-888-663-3488 or complete a new patient registration form online to request an appointment. No referrals are necessary.