What is a lobectomy?
A lobectomy is the surgical removal of a lobe of an organ. It most often
refers to the removal of a section of the lung, but it can also refer the
liver, brain, thyroid gland, or other organs.
organ is made up of many sections that perform different, specific tasks. In
the case of the lungs, the sections are called lobes. The right lung has three
lobes, which are the upper, middle, and lower lobes. The left lung has two
lobes, the upper and lower lobes.
In most cases, surgeons perform a lobectomy to remove a cancerous portion of
an organ and to prevent the cancer from spreading. This may not entirely get
rid of the disease, but it can eliminate the primary source of it.
A lobectomy is the most common way to treat lung cancer. Lung cancer is the
leading cause of cancer deaths in the United States, according to the American
Lung Association. It’s responsible for the deaths of more than 150,000 men
and women each year.
Surgeons may also perform lobectomies to treat:
- fungal infections
- benign tumors
- lung abscesses
are the risks of a lobectomy?
The risks of a lobectomy include:
- an infection
- an empyema, which is a collection of pus in the
- a bronchopleural fistula, which is a tube-like track
that causes air or fluid to leak out at the surgical site
- a tension pneumothorax occurs when air gets
trapped between the lung and chest wall
A tension pneumothorax can potentially cause the lungs to collapse.
Specific medical conditions may lead to complications if you have a
lobectomy. Discuss the risks with your doctor before any surgical procedure.
What are the
benefits of a lobectomy?
Having a lobectomy can stop or slow the spread of cancer, infections, and
diseases. Performing this surgery may also allow your doctor to remove a
portion of an organ that affects the function of other organs. For example, a
benign tumor may not be cancerous but may press against blood vessels,
preventing adequate blood flow to other parts of the body. By removing the lobe
with the tumor, your surgeon can effectively solve the problem.
How should you
prepare for a lobectomy?
You’ll need to fast for at least eight hours before a lobectomy. This
usually means not eating or drinking after midnight. Smokers need to stop
smoking before having this surgery. This will improve your chance of a
Most people will receive a sedative before the surgery to help them relax.
You may also receive antibiotics, and any other preparatory measures your
What happens during the surgery?
Your surgeon will perform a lobectomy while you’re under general anesthesia.
Several types of lobectomies exist.
For example, a thoracotomy involves your surgeon making large incisions in
your thorax, or chest. Your surgeon will make an incision on the side of your
chest, often in between two ribs and then create a space between your ribs to
see inside your chest and to remove the lobe.
An alternative to a traditional thoracotomy is video-assisted thoracoscopic surgery
(VATS), which is less invasive and generally has a shorter recovery time.
During this procedure, your surgeon will likely make four small incisions around
the surgical area to insert a small camera and surgical tools. These allow your
doctor to perform the lobectomy and remove the problematic lobe once it’s identified.
Your surgeon may place a small, temporary tube in your chest after the surgery
What to expect
after a lobectomy
surgery, you’ll be taught deep breathing and coughing exercises so your lungs
can learn to expand and contract again. This will also improve your breathing
and help to prevent pneumonia and other infections. Moving around and getting
out of bed will help you heal faster. Slowly increase your physical activity
and avoid lifting heavy objects for a while.
sure to avoid the following while healing:
fumes and harmful vapors in the air
to people with upper respiratory infections, such as colds and the flu
sure to tell your doctor if you have any of the following side effects after
swelling, or pain around the incision
changes in your mental state
What is the outlook?
For some people, having a lobectomy eliminates the medical problem, and for
others, it slows their disease’s progression or eases symptoms. If you have
lung cancer, the cancer may go into remission after a lobectomy or you may need
other treatments to destroy remaining cancer cells. Other conditions may require
additional medical attention.
Most people spend two to seven days in the hospital after a lobectomy, but
how long you’re in the hospital will depend on a number of factors including
the type of surgery you’ve had. Some people can go back to work or resume other
activities shortly after that, but most people need to stay home for four to
six weeks until they’ve fully recovered. You should avoid heavy lifting for six
to twelve weeks after surgery or until your doctor determines you’re well
After the surgery, your doctor will recommend a diet and regimen of physical
activity to help you heal. You’ll likely have a follow-up appointment a week
after the lobectomy. During that appointment, your doctor will check the
incisions and they may take an X-ray to make sure you’re healing properly. If
everything goes well, you can expect to have a full recovery in less than three