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After surgery for lung cancer

Men and women discussing lung cancer

This page tells you about what will happen after your surgery for lung cancer. There is information about

 

A quick guide to what's on this page

After your operation

After surgery for lung cancer, you may wake up in intensive care (ICU) or a high dependency recovery unit (HDU). You may feel very drowsy. As soon as your doctors are sure you are recovering well, you will move back to the ward. The nurses and physiotherapists will get you moving about as soon as possible after your operation. They will also help you to do breathing and leg exercises to help stop complications like chest infections or blood clots in the legs. 

To start with, you are likely to have some tubes in place. You will have a drip into your arm. And you will have drainage tubes from your wound, connected to a bottle. You will have regular chest X-rays to make sure your remaining lung tissue is working properly.

Painkillers

You will have some pain for the first few days. If you are in pain, it is important you tell the nurse or doctor as soon as possible. With your help, they can find the right type and dose of painkiller for you. Rarely, some people have pain that starts a few weeks or months after their operation from damaged nerve endings growing back. If you have any pain after your operation, do tell your surgeon.

Going home

You will probably be ready to go home from 5 to 10 days after the operation. It may be sooner if you have had keyhole surgery. When you get home, it is important to exercise to get yourself fit again. Check with your doctor or physiotherapist about exercise before you leave the hospital. It is important to start slowly and not overdo it. It may be 4 to 6 weeks before you can drive again although it may be sooner if you have had keyhole surgery.

 

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After your operation

After surgery for lung cancer, you may wake up in intensive care (ICU) or a high dependency recovery unit (HDU). This is routine after a big operation and as soon as your doctors are sure you are recovering well, you will be moved back to the ward. This is usually within a day of the operation. 

In ICU you have one to one nursing care, and are checked very regularly. This is normal and doesn't mean there is something wrong. Your surgeon and anaesthetist will keep a close eye on your progress. ICUs are very busy places and can be noisy. You may feel very drowsy. Some people find the experience of being in ICU a bit strange and disorientating.

 

Drips and drains

To start with, you are likely to have some tubes in place including

  • A drip (or intravenous infusion) into your arm
  • Drainage tubes from your wound, connected to a bottle, and possibly a suction machine

Your nurse will take the drip out as soon as you are able to eat and drink normally. This is usually within a couple of days.

Your nurses will take out the drainage tubes when fluid from the wound has stopped draining out. This can be up to a week later but may be sooner if you have had keyhole surgery.

 

Moving around

The nurses and physiotherapists will get you moving about as soon as possible after you have your operation. Until you can get out of bed, they will help you to do some breathing and leg exercises to help stop complications such as blood clots in the legs or chest infections. 

You will have regular chest X-rays to make sure you can breathe well. To start with these will probably be done on the ward with a portable X-ray machine.

 

Painkillers

You will have some pain for the first few days after your operation. There are different types of painkilling drugs you can have and different ways of giving them. If you are in pain, it is important to tell your nurse or doctor as soon as possible. 

With your help, your treatment team will be able to find the right type and dose of painkiller for you. Painkillers work best when you take them regularly. It is important that you are as comfortable as possible so that you can breathe properly. If your pain is controlled it also makes it easier to move around to lower your risk of chest infection.

Rarely, some people find they have pain that starts a few weeks or months after their operation. This is usually because nerve endings that were damaged during the operation have started to grow back. This pain will go when the nerve endings have recovered. But the pain can take some time to get better. 

If you have any pain after your operation, do go and see your surgeon to find out what could be causing it. If it can't be sorted out straight away, your doctor can refer you to a specialist pain clinic.

 

Going home

You will probably be ready to go home about 10 days after lung removal and 5 to 7 days after lobectomy. It may be sooner than this after keyhole surgery.

If you live alone, or might have difficulty managing, let the nurses know when you first go into hospital. They can then make plans to help you when you go home.

When you get home, it is important to gently exercise to get yourself fit again. Check with your doctor or physiotherapist about exercise before you leave the hospital. It is important to start slowly and not overdo it. Once you are getting back on your feet you could try brisk walking or swimming.

You will be given an outpatient appointment before you leave the ward. This is usually about 6 weeks after your operation.

Remember that if you have any worries or symptoms before your outpatient appointment, contact your doctor or the hospital ward. You don't have to wait until your appointment.

 

Driving

After surgery to your chest you should not drive until the effects of the anaesthetic and painkillers have worn off. Your wounds must have healed well. At first the seat belt may press on your wound and make it sore. 

Your doctor will tell you when you can start driving again but it is usually about 4 to 6 weeks after surgery. It may be sooner than this after keyhole surgery. Some insurance companies also specify that you should not drive for a certain amount of time after chest surgery. So it is worth checking with your car insurance company.

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Updated: 28 March 2014