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Before surgery for lung cancer

Men and women discussing lung cancer

This page tells you about what happens before surgery for lung cancer and the tests you may have. There is information about

 

A quick guide to what's on this page

Information and tests

Before your operation your surgeon and specialist nurse will explain what the operation involves. They may meet you in the outpatient pre assessment clinic or when you arrive at the hospital for your operation. They will answer any questions that you have.

Your doctor will ask you to sign a form saying that you agree to have the operation. They will also want to do some blood tests to check your health and make sure you are not anaemic. They will probably also want you to have a heart test called an ECG (electrocardiogram).

Tests for your breathing

If you are going to have part, or all, of a lung removed, your doctor must be sure you will be able to breathe comfortably afterwards. They may want you to have lung function tests. These tests measure how much air you can breathe in and out.

When you go into hospital

Before your operation you will see a physiotherapist and a doctor. The physiotherapist will teach you breathing exercises and leg exercises to do after your operation. These will help you to avoid chest infections or blood clots in your legs as you recover. You may also have injections of anti clotting drugs just under the skin. Your nurse may give you elasticated stockings to wear.

 

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Information and explanation

Before your operation you will see your surgeon, an anaesthetist, and usually a specialist nurse. They will explain what the operation involves and what to expect when you come round from the anaesthetic. This may include information about what to eat and drink and when you will be able to move around. 

Your surgical team may meet you in the outpatient pre assessment clinic before you go into hospital. Or you may meet them when you arrive at the hospital for your operation. They will ask if you have any questions. When your questions have been answered your doctor will ask you to sign a form saying that you agree to have the operation. Remember that no operation can be done without your consent.

 

Testing your general health

Before your operation you will have tests to make sure that you are fit enough for the surgery. You may have these test at a pre admission clinic in the outpatient department. Or you may have them in the hospital a few days before your operation. 

You will have some blood tests to check your general health and make sure you are not anaemic. You will probably also have an ECG (electrocardiogram). This tests how well your heart is working. It is painless and doesn't take long. A nurse or technician will attach some wires to your chest with suction cups or tape. They attach the wires to a machine that takes a recording of your heart beating. If you have heart problems your doctor may ask you to have some extra tests. The tests may include an ECG while you are exercising or an echocardiogram.

 

Testing your breathing

If you are going to have part, or all, of a lung removed, it is important that the doctor is sure you will be able to breathe comfortably afterwards. They may want you to have some lung function tests. These tests measure how much air you can breathe in and out. They don't hurt, but can be a bit tiring.

 

When you go into hospital

Before your operation you will see a physiotherapist and a doctor. The physiotherapist will teach you breathing exercises and leg exercises to do after your operation. 

When you are in bed and not moving around very much, you are more likely to develop chest infections and blood clots. The breathing exercises will help you to avoid getting chest infections after the surgery. 

To stop blood clots forming, you may be given medicines called heparin, tinzaparin, or dalteparin before the surgery and for a couple of weeks afterwards. You usually have them as a small injection under the skin. Your nurse may also give you elasticated stockings to wear.

The video below is a guide to breathing and circulation exercises after surgery when you have a wound in the side of your chest. Click on the arrow to watch it. If you have trouble playing the video, you can view it on Cancer Research UK's YouTube channel.

View a transcript of the video showing breathing and circulation exercises after surgery (opens in new window).

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Updated: 28 March 2014