Lung Cancer Surgery: What to Expect

Preparing for Lung Cancer Surgery

It’s important to discuss all surgical risk factors with your Mercy doctor, so you’re well informed. There are many things you need to be made aware of both before and during your scheduled surgery.

There are several precautions you will want to take before your lung cancer surgery procedure.


  • If you’re a smoker, it’s extremely important that you quit smoking at least two weeks before your surgery. Failure to do so can result in a longer healing time.
  • Your Mercy doctor will tell you what you can and can’t eat or drink 24 hours ahead of your surgery.
  • You’ll also want to have a discussion regarding any medications you’re currently taking and whether they will affect your procedure.
  • Lastly, arrange for someone to pick you up from the hospital after your surgery. You won’t be discharged unless you’ve secured a safe and reliable method of transportation back home.

A lot of what you can expect during your lung cancer surgery depends on the type of procedure you and your Mercy doctor decide on.


  • You’ll be given a general anesthetic for your surgery.
  • Once you’re completely sedated, the area surrounding the incision site will be cleaned to prevent any chance of infection during surgery.
  • After your surgical preparation, the surgery will begin. You’ve either chosen an “open” procedure or a minimally invasive procedure, and processes for each are followed accordingly. 

What to Expect After Lung Cancer Surgery 

Your recovery after lung cancer surgery will depend heavily on the type of procedure performed as well as your overall health. It’s common for chest tubes to be inserted during your surgery to help drain the chest cavity of blood and fluid. It’s possible that your Mercy doctor may recommend they leave the tubes in place when you’re discharged from the hospital. If this is the case with your surgery, your Mercy care team will show you how to properly care for them at home. 

Physical Side Effects


Some physical side effects following lung surgery can include pain, swelling and scars. Pain and swelling normally fade in the weeks following surgery, but numbness in the affected area may last longer. Infection is also a risk, which could lead to pneumonia. Review a complete list of physical side effects with your Mercy doctor.


Mental Side Effects


It’s common to feel emotionally drained following surgery. You likely won’t be able to resume normal activities for some time and may need to lean on friends and family members for support. This feeling of dependency can cause added stress and anxiety. Remember that supportive care is available every step of the way, and that includes post-op.




If you’re prescribed medication to deal with chronic pain following your procedure, you should refrain from driving due to side effects from the medication that could impair your abilities. You should also refrain from consuming alcohol while taking medication.




As a part of your recovery, you may be asked to do certain breathing exercises, which can help you adjust to life after surgery. Treatment may include medication or use of a spirometer (a device used to measure the volume of air inspired and expired by the lungs). Likewise, your physiotherapist may recommend certain exercises for your shoulder on the operated side of your body. The extent of your rehab depends upon your surgery and body type.


Monitor Symptoms


Following lung cancer surgery, it’s important to share any symptoms with your Mercy doctor so they can recommend the appropriate supportive care. This will allow you to recover faster and return to normal activities with the least resistance.  

The good news is that most people eventually return to normal activity levels following their surgery, even if they’ve lost an entire lung. It takes a coordinated team to treat and support patients throughout this entire process. Mercy cancer specialists will help to reduce your side effects, manage pain and provide follow-up testing to ensure your cancer doesn’t return.