Recovering from lung cancer surgery

Lung cancer surgery is a major operation and it’s normal to feel worried about your recovery and life after surgery. Knowing what to expect can help to ease any anxiety you may be feeling.

After surgery, you will either be on a high dependency unit or an intensive care unit — this is standard procedure after a major operation. When you wake up you may have an oxygen mask on and will find that you have had a few tubes put in, including:

  • A chest drain — a tube is inserted into your chest and drains air, blood and/or fluid from your wound into a bottle
  • A small tube inserted into an artery to measure your blood pressure
  • Catheter — a tube is inserted into your bladder and drains your fluid into a bag; your care team will measure how much urine you are passing 
  • Drips — these are inserted into a vein to either give you a blood transfusion or provide fluids to maintain the balance of water and minerals in your body

How long will you be in hospital for after surgery?

You should be able to leave the hospital around seven days after your surgery depending on how your recovery progresses.

Your nurses and physiotherapists will want to get you moving as soon as possible. Movement is a big part of recovery; you will probably be sitting up in a chair within 12 hours of your operation.

A day or two after your operation you will be encouraged to walk around your bed. After a few more days, your drips and tubes will come out and you will be encouraged to take a slow walk around the hospital ward.

How long will you be in pain for after surgery?

As with all major operations, pain after surgery is expected and normal. Pain typically lasts for a week or two. However, if you continue to have pain for weeks after your surgery, let your doctor know.

You can expect to be in some discomfort for up to three months after your surgery, so don’t push yourself too hard.

Will you be given any painkillers to help manage the pain?

Yes, you will receive painkillers in hospital, and when you’re discharged you’ll be sent home with at least a two-week supply of painkillers to take as instructed.

Some pain medications can cause side effects such as constipation, so make sure to ask about possible side effects and what you can do to help ease them.

Will you have a wound after surgery, and if so, how long will it take to heal?

Yes, you will have a wound after your surgery. The size, location and how fast it heals will depend on the type of surgery you had.

A long wound from open surgery will take longer to heal than several small wounds from keyhole surgery. 

Your wound will either have stitches or clips holding it together — these will stay in for about 10 days. For the first few days after surgery, you’ll have a dressing on your wound, which your nurse will clean and change.

You may need to return to hospital to have your stitches or clips removed, or a nurse may visit you at home to remove them. 

How will things be when you get home?

Things are going to be a little different when your first return home, so it’s a good idea to get your home ready before you go in for surgery. 

We recommend having someone stay with you for at least the first week after surgery. Although you will be able to move around and look after yourself in terms of personal hygiene, you will not be able to lift items such as the kettle, pans or house cleaning equipment. 

You may find that you feel low for a while after your surgery. Talk to friends and family about your feelings and how they can support you. Set yourself small goals and make sure not to overwhelm yourself. 

You may lose your appetite after surgery. However, food can have a big impact on your recovery. Try to focus on foods such as wholemeal bread, brown rice, oats, fresh fruit and vegetables, lean meat and natural low-fat yoghurt and milk. Aim for small but frequent high-calorie meals.

Once you’re home, make sure you rest often and avoid anything strenuous — you will feel very tired in the first week after returning home. It helps to slowly build up your activity levels. Aim to walk around the house each day and build up to walking outside. 

You will not be able to drive for around four to six weeks. Your wounds must have healed well before your surgeon will clear you as safe to drive.

What is the follow-up process?

Your follow-up appointment will be between two to six weeks after your surgery. The appointment will be with your surgeon and is your chance to ask any questions. We recommend bringing someone to this appointment as there can be a lot of information to take in. 

Your surgeon will go through the results of your surgery and this will determine how often you’ll need to have check-ups.

At this appointment, you will also have an examination and your surgeon will ask whether you’re experiencing any new symptoms or side effects of your medication. You may want to make a list of anything that’s been worrying you, any side effects or other questions before your appointment.

Author Information

Cahoot Care Marketing

Niched in the care sector, Cahoot Care Marketing offers a full range of marketing services for care businesses including: SEO, social media, websites and video marketing, specialising in copywriting and content marketing.

Over the last five years Cahoot Care Marketing has built an experienced team of writers and editors, with broad and deep expertise on a range of care topics. They provide a responsive, efficient and comprehensive service, ensuring content is on brand and in line with relevant medical guidelines.

Their writers and editors include care sector workers, healthcare copywriting specialists and NHS trainers, who thoroughly research all topics using reputable sources including the NHS, NICE, relevant Royal Colleges and medical associations.


The 2020 Spire Content Hub project was managed by:

Lux Fatimathas, Editor and Project Manager

Lux has a BSc(Hons) in Neuroscience from UCL, a PhD in Cellular and Molecular Biology from the UCL Institute of Ophthalmology and experience as a postdoctoral researcher in developmental biology. She has a clear and extensive understanding of the biological and medical sciences.Having worked in scientific publishing for BioMed Central and as a writer for the UK’s Medical Research Council and the National University of Singapore, she is able to clearly communicate complex concepts.

Alfie Jones, Director — Cahoot Care Marketing

Alfie has a creative writing degree from UCF and initially worked as a carer before supporting his family’s care training business with copywriting and general marketing.He has worked in content marketing and the care sector for over 10 years and overseen a diverse range of care content projects, building a strong team of specialist writers and marketing creatives after founding Cahoot in 2016.