What is a lobectomy?
A lobectomy is a surgery to remove one of the lobes of the lungs. The lungs have sections called lobes. The right lung has 3 lobes. The left lung has 2 lobes. A lobectomy may be done when a problem is found in just part of a lung. The affected lobe is removed, and the remaining healthy lung tissue can work as normal.
A lobectomy is most often done during a surgery called a thoracotomy. During this type of surgery, the chest is opened.
In most cases, during a lobectomy the cut (incision) is made at the level of the affected lobe. The incision is most often made on the front of the chest under the nipple and wraps around the back under the shoulder blade. The surgeon gets access to the chest cavity through the exposed ribs to remove the lobe.
In some cases, a video-assisted thoracic surgery (VATS) is used to do a lobectomy. This is a less-invasive procedure. With this type of surgery, 3 or 4 small incisions are used instead of one large incision. Small tools are put into the chest cavity. One of the tools is called a thoracoscope. It’s a tube with a light and a tiny camera that sends images to a computer screen. This shows the internal organs on the screen. The small tools are used through the other incisions to do the surgery.
What happens after a lobectomy?
After the procedure, you will spend some time in a recovery room. You may be sleepy and confused when you wake up from general anesthesia or sedation. Your healthcare team will watch your vital signs, such as your heart rate and breathing. You’ll be given pain medicine if you need it. A chest X-ray may be done right after the surgery. This is to make sure your lungs are okay. You will stay in the hospital for several days.
You may have one or more chest tubes near the incision to drain air or fluid from the chest. The chest tubes may cause pain when you move, cough, or breathe deeply. They will be taken out before you leave the hospital.
You will be taught deep-breathing exercises and coughing methods to help your lungs re-expand after surgery. This is to help breathing and prevent pneumonia. You may need oxygen for a period of time after surgery. In most cases, the oxygen will be stopped before you go home. Or, you may need to go home with oxygen.
You will be told to move around as much as you can while in bed, and get out of bed and walk as soon as you can. This will help your lungs heal faster.
You may be given fluids to drink a few hours after surgery. You will be given food to eat as you are able.
Before you leave the hospital, you’ll make an appointment for a follow-up visit with your healthcare provider. You will go home when your healthcare provider says it’s OK. Someone will need to drive you home.
At home, keep the incision clean and dry. Your healthcare provider will give you bathing instructions. The stitches or staples will be removed during a follow-up appointment. The incision may be sore for several days. Your chest and shoulder muscles may ache, especially with deep breathing, coughing, and activity. You can take pain medicine as advised by your healthcare provider. Aspirin and certain other pain medicines may increase bleeding. Make sure to take only the medicines your healthcare provider advises.
Keeping doing the breathing exercises you learned in the hospital. Slowly increase your physical activity as tolerated. It may take several weeks to return to normal. You may need to avoid lifting heavy items for several months. This is to prevent strain on your chest muscles and the incision.
While you’re healing, take steps to prevent exposure to:
- Upper respiratory infections, such as colds and flu
- Tobacco smoke
- Chemical fumes
- Environmental pollution
Call your healthcare provider if you have any of the below:
- Fever of 100.4°F (38°C) or higher
- Redness or swelling of the incision
- Blood or other fluid leaking from the incision
- Pain around the incision that gets worse
- Feeling short of breath
- Trouble breathing
- Pain with breathing
- Chest pain
- Confusion or other change in mental state
- Green, yellow, or blood-tinted sputum (phlegm)
Your healthcare provider may give you other instructions after the procedure.