Lung Resection

In this Article

A lung resection is a surgical procedure where all or part of the lung is removed. The procedure may be referred to as a lobectomy or a thoracotomy. A lung resection may be performed to treat an infection or disease of the lungs such as cancer, emphysema, or bronchiectasis.

What is a lung resection?

A lung resection is a surgical procedure where all or part of the lung is removed. The procedure may be referred to as a lobectomy [lobe-ECK-tuh-mee] or a thoracotomy [thawr-uh-KOT-uh-mee]. A lung resection may be performed to treat an infection or disease of the lungs such as cancer, emphysema [em-fuh-SEE-muh], or bronchiectasis [brong-kee-EK-tuh-sis].

During a lobectomy, one or multiple lobes are removed from your lungs. The lungs in your body are made up of five sections called lobes, 3 in your right lung and 2 in the left. A lobectomy removes one of these lobes that may be damaged from disease or an infection. Lobectomy is usually the main treatment for people with early stages of lung cancer. It may also be performed to treat the following:

  • Tuberculosis
  • Emphysema
  • Bronchiectasis
  • Non-cancerous (benign) tumors
  • Infections (fungal)
  • Abscess that doesn’t heal on its own 

A thoracotomy is a surgery that repairs or removes tissues or fluid from the lungs or the area around the lungs. Depending on your situation, this operation can be performed to:

  • Take a small bit of tissue (a biopsy). A biopsy helps your doctor find out more about the problem.
  • Remove lung tissue. This may be recommended if you have lung cancer or a lung disease such as emphysema. Depending on your situation, the surgery may remove:
    • An entire lung
    • Main section (a lobe) of a lung
    • Part of a lobe
  • Treat an infection or scarring around the lung.
  • Inflate a lung that has collapsed.
  • Remove weak spots in the lung that can leak air.
  • Remove extra blood or fluid that has collected around your lungs.
  • Remove a blood clot in the artery that carries blood to the lungs (a pulmonary embolism). A pulmonary embolism is often treated in other ways, but a thoracotomy is the best option in some cases.

What are the risks and/or side effects?

Problems from a lung resection are rare, but the chances are higher if you have heart disease, cancer, or a history of stroke. Here are risks and possible problems that can happen during the procedure:

  • Problems with the medicine the doctor gives to put you to sleep (anesthesia), like vomiting, trouble urinating, sore throat, cut lips, headache, heart problems, stroke, or pneumonia
  • Infection, bleeding that requires a blood transfusion or blood clots
  • Death (extremely rare)
  • Injury to the lungs or blood vessels in the lungs
  • An air leak in the lung or failure of the lung to fill with air after surgery
  • Repeated fluid buildup in the chest (this can lead to Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome)
  • Infection

What are the benefits?

A lung resection can help treat problems with your lungs and improve your symptoms. If you have a cancerous tumor removed, the procedure may increase your chances of survival.

How do I prepare?

To make your surgery and recovery go more smoothly, here’s what you should do before your procedure:

  • Talk with your doctor about risks and benefits of the surgery.
  • Tell your doctor about your allergies and about all medicines you take including vitamins and herbal supplements.
  • Tell your doctor if you are taking aspirin or blood-thinning medications.
  • Tell your doctor if you have ever had a reaction to anesthesia. 
  • Keep your pre-surgical test appointments.
  • If you smoke, talk to your doctor.
  • Prepare for your hospital stay.
  • Follow all instructions on when to stop eating and drinking before your surgery.
  • Take a shower the night before or the morning you come to the hospital.  

How is it done or administered?

A lung resection will be performed in an operating room at a hospital. Here is what happens during the procedure:

  • Monitoring lines will be attached to you so your surgeon and anesthesiologist can monitor your heartbeat, blood pressure, and breathing (oxygen level) during surgery.
  • A nurse will place an IV (intravenous) line into a vein to give you medicine and fluids during and after the surgery.
  • You will be given medicine that will allow you to sleep through the procedure (anesthesia).
  • Once the anesthesia is administered, your surgical team will place a breathing tube in your windpipe to help you breathe during the surgery.
  • Your surgeon will make an incision on your side between your ribs to reach the lungs.
  • Depending on the goal of the surgery, the doctor will remove diseased tissue, repair damaged tissue, or remove infection, blood, or blood clots.
  • The doctor will place tubes into your chest to drain fluids and air as you recover.
  • The doctor will close up the incision with stitches or staples, and you will be moved to the recovery area.

The surgery will take anywhere from 2 to 6 hours. 

When will I know the results?

Once you are awake, your surgeon will discuss the results of your lung resection with you. If tissue was removed to be tested, you might not know the results for a couple of days.

What are follow-up requirements and options?

Recovery from lung surgery will take several weeks to months. You will be given medicine to help you manage your pain. It is important you follow your doctor’s instructions on taking medicines. You may not be able to return to work for 6 to 8 weeks, depending on your recovery and overall health.