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Health A-Z

Medical Content Created by the Faculty of the
Harvard Medical School

How It's Done

An intravenous (IV) line will be inserted into a vein in your arm. The IV will deliver fluids and medications. You will be given general anesthesia.

An incision will be made in your chest on the side of the diseased lung. In a traditional pneumonectomy, the surgeon collapses the diseased lung and ties off its major blood vessels. Then the surgeon clamps the lung's main bronchial (air) tube. The surgeon cuts through this tube as close to the trachea (windpipe) as possible. He or she then removes the lung.

The cut end of the bronchial tube either is closed with staples or tied off with sutures. The surgeon will confirm that the closed end of the bronchial tube is not leaking air. He or she will then close the chest incision with sutures. The surgeon will leave a temporary drain in the space between the two membranes that surround the lung.

If you are having an extrapleural pneumonectomy, the surgeon will remove your diseased lung. He or she also will carefully remove the pleura from your chest wall. Parts of your pericardium and diaphragm will be cut away on the affected side. These will be replaced with patches of Gore-Tex, a safe, synthetic material.

After your surgery, you will be taken to the surgical intensive care unit (ICU). For the first 24 hours, your breathing will be assisted with a respirator. Your chest drainage tube will remain in place.

Once your condition is stable, you will be transferred to a regular hospital room. This usually occurs within a few days.

Most patients who have had a traditional pneumonectomy will be able to go home seven to 10 days after their surgery. The hospital stay for an extrapleural pneumonectomy may be one or two days longer.

Many centers now offer less invasive surgery for selected candidates. This surgery is called video-assisted thoracic surgery (VATS). With VATS, the length of hospital stay may be reduced.

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From Health A-Z, Harvard Health Publications. Copyright 2007 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College. All rights reserved. Written permission is required to reproduce, in any manner, in whole or in part, the material contained herein. To make a reprint request, contact Harvard Health Publications. Used with permission of StayWell.

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