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Frequently asked questions about Lung Surgery

What is lung cancer?
Lung cancer is a malignant growth on the lung that, if left untreated, will spread and perhaps cause death. The large majority of lung cancer can be treated if it's caught in its early stages.
What causes lung cancer?
The No. 1 cause of lung cancer is smoking. It is also possible for lung cancer to develop from an old scar or lesion in the lungs. In addition, lung cancer is formed or created by certain noxious chemical agents in the lungs.
What are the symptoms of lung cancer?
In its early stages, there are often no symptoms of lung cancer. It is, however, often detected while doing other screenings (such as a chest x-ray for a rib injury). Once the disease progresses there are many symptoms that should not be ignored. These symptoms include a persistent cough, coughing up blood, chest pains that will not go away.
What should I do if you have any of these symptoms?
If you have any symptoms of lung cancer, call your doctor immediately. The earlier you receive medical treatment, the better your odds of surviving.
What will my breathing be like after lung surgery?
After lung surgery, your breathing will depend on two things: how much of your lung is removed and the condition of your lungs before the surgery. The great majority of patients return to their normal activities of daily living without the use of assisted oxygen.
What method of pain control is used after lung surgery?
Different patients respond differently to surgery. Some patients will only need aspirin for their pain, while others require more drastic measures. For these patients, and anesthesiologist can insert an epidural catheter. Another option is an intravenous infusion of stronger pain killing medications.
Where will my incision(s) be after lung surgery?
For removal of a significant portion of the lung, the incision is curved around the tip of the shoulder blade extending toward the impacted side.
What is the difference between thoracotomy and VATS?
Surgery, whether performed using VATS or thoracotomy is done with you completely asleep / unconscious. Lobectomy performed via either technique takes a similar amount of time, in the operating room, to perform. Lobectomies performed using VATS are associated with a shorter hospital stay, less pain, fewer complications, earlier return to full activity, and, if needed, better tolerance of postoperative chemotherapy.
How soon after thoracotomy and VATS can I drive?
Most patients can drive two weeks after a VATS lobectomy and approximately 4 weeks after a lobectomy performed via thoracotomy. Prior to driving, one should no longer be taking narcotic pain medicines during the day.
When can I start exercising again?
Initially, after surgery, the best form of exercise is walking. You should begin this as soon as possible. Usually, the day after surgery nurses and physical therapists will help you start to move around your room and for short trips out in the hall. By the time you are discharged from the hospital you should be taking short walks around the hospital ward 3 - 4 times per day. At home, you should dedicate 30 - 40 minutes per day for walking. As far as weight lifting or vigorous upper body exercises go, these can usually be started 4 - 6 weeks after surgery.
I live by myself. How much help after surgery will I need at home?
Everybody need some support after lung surgery. The amount of support will depend on how functional you were before your operation and how well you tolerated surgery. Normally, you can ride in a car, do minimal cooking and perform basic shower / toiletry activities. For a few weeks, these activities may take you longer than normal to perform. Initially, you will not be able to drive or lift heavy loads. Having someone to assist with shopping and some of your daily activities is usually all that is needed until you are driving again.
I'm concerned about being able to do the things I used to do after lobectomy / pneumonectomy.
Removal of whole or part of a lung does decrease your lung function, but most patients are able to resume an active life after lobectomy or pneumonectomy. Before surgery, your surgeon will measure your lung function (Pulmonary Function Tests) to make sure that you have adequate lung reserve. Obviously, the more lung that is removed, the more you are affected. Pneumonectomy patients tend to notice the most shortness of breath, especially while walking up hills or doing vigorous exercise.
Are there things I can do to increase my chances of living a "normal" life after the lung surgery?
Before surgery, you should do everything you can to improve your lung function. This includes quitting smoking (longer than a month, if possible), eating well, and exercising (walking for 30 minutes to an hour per day). After surgery you should continue to abstain from smoking so that your lung function does not continue to deteriorate. A regular exercise program will help you return to "normal" life.
I've had chemo and radiation and now I'm going to have lung surgery. Does that prior treatment make my surgery different in any way?
Yes, surgery after chemotherapy and / or radiation therapy is typically more difficult for the surgeon due to scar tissue that forms in your chest. Although more difficult, experienced surgeons do this kind of surgery with outcomes that are similar to those obtained in patients that did not have chemotherapy before surgery. In experienced centers, preoperative therapy is not a contraindication to performing these operations in a minimally invasive fashion. If possible, seek a surgeon who practices predominately general thoracic surgery, as they have the most experience with this kind of surgery.

Frequently asked questions about Lung Surgery

What is lung cancer?
Lung cancer is a malignant growth on the lung that, if left untreated, will spread and perhaps cause death. The large majority of lung cancer can be treated if it's caught in its early stages.
What causes lung cancer?
The No. 1 cause of lung cancer is smoking. It is also possible for lung cancer to develop from an old scar or lesion in the lungs. In addition, lung cancer is formed or created by certain noxious chemical agents in the lungs.
What are the symptoms of lung cancer?
In its early stages, there are often no symptoms of lung cancer. It is, however, often detected while doing other screenings (such as a chest x-ray for a rib injury). Once the disease progresses there are many symptoms that should not be ignored. These symptoms include a persistent cough, coughing up blood, chest pains that will not go away.
What should I do if you have any of these symptoms?
If you have any symptoms of lung cancer, call your doctor immediately. The earlier you receive medical treatment, the better your odds of surviving.
What will my breathing be like after lung surgery?
After lung surgery, your breathing will depend on two things: how much of your lung is removed and the condition of your lungs before the surgery. The great majority of patients return to their normal activities of daily living without the use of assisted oxygen.
What method of pain control is used after lung surgery?
Different patients respond differently to surgery. Some patients will only need aspirin for their pain, while others require more drastic measures. For these patients, and anesthesiologist can insert an epidural catheter. Another option is an intravenous infusion of stronger pain killing medications.
Where will my incision(s) be after lung surgery?
For removal of a significant portion of the lung, the incision is curved around the tip of the shoulder blade extending toward the impacted side.
What is the difference between thoracotomy and VATS?
Surgery, whether performed using VATS or thoracotomy is done with you completely asleep / unconscious. Lobectomy performed via either technique takes a similar amount of time, in the operating room, to perform. Lobectomies performed using VATS are associated with a shorter hospital stay, less pain, fewer complications, earlier return to full activity, and, if needed, better tolerance of postoperative chemotherapy.
How soon after thoracotomy and VATS can I drive?
Most patients can drive two weeks after a VATS lobectomy and approximately 4 weeks after a lobectomy performed via thoracotomy. Prior to driving, one should no longer be taking narcotic pain medicines during the day.
When can I start exercising again?
Initially, after surgery, the best form of exercise is walking. You should begin this as soon as possible. Usually, the day after surgery nurses and physical therapists will help you start to move around your room and for short trips out in the hall. By the time you are discharged from the hospital you should be taking short walks around the hospital ward 3 - 4 times per day. At home, you should dedicate 30 - 40 minutes per day for walking. As far as weight lifting or vigorous upper body exercises go, these can usually be started 4 - 6 weeks after surgery.
I live by myself. How much help after surgery will I need at home?
Everybody need some support after lung surgery. The amount of support will depend on how functional you were before your operation and how well you tolerated surgery. Normally, you can ride in a car, do minimal cooking and perform basic shower / toiletry activities. For a few weeks, these activities may take you longer than normal to perform. Initially, you will not be able to drive or lift heavy loads. Having someone to assist with shopping and some of your daily activities is usually all that is needed until you are driving again.
I'm concerned about being able to do the things I used to do after lobectomy / pneumonectomy.
Removal of whole or part of a lung does decrease your lung function, but most patients are able to resume an active life after lobectomy or pneumonectomy. Before surgery, your surgeon will measure your lung function (Pulmonary Function Tests) to make sure that you have adequate lung reserve. Obviously, the more lung that is removed, the more you are affected. Pneumonectomy patients tend to notice the most shortness of breath, especially while walking up hills or doing vigorous exercise.
Are there things I can do to increase my chances of living a "normal" life after the lung surgery?
Before surgery, you should do everything you can to improve your lung function. This includes quitting smoking (longer than a month, if possible), eating well, and exercising (walking for 30 minutes to an hour per day). After surgery you should continue to abstain from smoking so that your lung function does not continue to deteriorate. A regular exercise program will help you return to "normal" life.
I've had chemo and radiation and now I'm going to have lung surgery. Does that prior treatment make my surgery different in any way?
Yes, surgery after chemotherapy and / or radiation therapy is typically more difficult for the surgeon due to scar tissue that forms in your chest. Although more difficult, experienced surgeons do this kind of surgery with outcomes that are similar to those obtained in patients that did not have chemotherapy before surgery. In experienced centers, preoperative therapy is not a contraindication to performing these operations in a minimally invasive fashion. If possible, seek a surgeon who practices predominately general thoracic surgery, as they have the most experience with this kind of surgery.