Skip to content

Lung Cancer Surgery

You may hear your doctor refer to this type of lung cancer surgery as a resection. Some or all of the lung, or sections of the lung called lobes, may be removed depending on the size and location of the tumor:


  • Segmentectomy or wedge resection removes part of a lobe.
  • Lobectomy removes an entire lobe.
  • Pneumonectomy removes an entire lung.
  • Sleeve resection removes part of a lung and the remaining tissue is reattached.

During surgery, lymph nodes near the tumor will also be removed so that doctors can determine how far the cancer has spread. Cancer can travel to other parts of the body by invading the lymph system.

Lung cancer surgery is a serious operation. In most cases, surgeons need to open the rib cage in order to remove the cancer and some surrounding tissue. Most patients spend 5 to 7 days in the hospital after lung cancer surgery, and recovery takes 4 to 8 weeks. A new type of surgery called video-assisted thoracic surgery is less invasive. In this procedure, a small video camera is inserted through a small hole in the chest to help surgeons remove small tumors near the outside of the lung.

If you are generally in good health, you should be able to return to normal activities after you recover from lung cancer surgery, even if you had a lung removed. However, if you have a lung disease such as emphysema, you may become short of breath more often after surgery.

If the cancer has spread to another part of your body, or if your cancer recurs, you may have surgery or other procedures to help control it. In people with late stage cancer, surgery may be used to help relieve symptoms and make the patient more comfortable. For example, if a tumor is blocking an airway, laser surgery may be used to make it smaller. In this instance, surgery will not cure the cancer, but can help relieve discomfort or pain. This is called palliative surgery.

Radiation Therapy for Lung Cancer

Radiation therapy can be external or internal. Both use high-energy X-rays or other types of radiation to kill cancer cells or to help keep them from growing. External radiation therapy is delivered from a machine. Internal radiation therapy requires small radioactive “seeds” to be placed in or near a cancerous tumor to help shrink it. Most people with NSCLC receive external radiation therapy.

External radiation may be used to treat NSCLC in several ways, depending on the type and stage of the lung cancer.

  • It can be used in place of surgery for patients who are not healthy enough for surgery or if the tumor can’t be removed by surgery.
  • It may be used with chemotherapy to treat Stage III cancers. Chemotherapy and radiation therapy may be given at the same time. If a patient is not healthy enough to have combination therapy, then treatments will be given one after another.
  • It can also be used as palliative therapy in late stage cancer to lessen symptoms and relieve pain.

Lung Cancer Risks: Myths vs. Facts

Can vitamins protect you? Is it too late to quit smoking? Bust the myths.
View slideshow