Written by Heaven Stubblefield | Published on January 28, 2014
Medically Reviewed by George Krucik, MD, MBA on January 28, 2014

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 a lung. It may also refer to the liver, brain, thyroid gland, and other organs.

What Does a Lobectomy Do?

A lobectomy removes a lobe of an organ. Every organ is made up of various sections that perform specific tasks. For instance, the right lung is separated into superior lobe, middle lobe, and inferior lobe. The left lung has a superior and inferior lobe but no middle lobe.

In most cases, a lobectomy is performed to remove a cancerous portion of an organ. For example, if the superior lobe of the right lung had cancer, a surgeon would remove the upper portion of the lung to prevent the cancer from spreading. This may not get rid of the disease entirely, but it will eliminate the primary source of it.

Lobectomy may also be used to treat fungal infections, benign tumors, emphysema, lung abscesses, and tuberculosis.

How Is a Lobectomy Administered?

There are several types of lobectomy, and each is administered differently. Most lobectomy surgeries are thoractomies. A thoractomy involves an incision on the side of the chest, in between two ribs. The surgeon pries open the ribs to see inside the body and removes the lobe.

An alternative to a traditional thoractomy is video assisted thoracic surgery (VATS). During this procedure, a surgeon makes three small incisions and one larger incision around the surgical area. He or she then inserts a small camera in one of the incisions and uses the other for surgical tools. This allows the doctor to perform the lobectomy without having to open the rib cage. Once the problematic lobe is identified, it is removed.

What Are the Benefits of a Lobectomy?

A lobectomy can stop or slow the spread of cancer, infections, and diseases. It may also remove a portion of an organ that affects the function of other organs. For instance, a benign tumor may press against blood vessels, preventing adequate blood flow to other parts of the body. By removing the lobe with the tumor, a surgeon can effectively solve the problem.

What Are the Risks of a Lobectomy?

Lobectomies, like all surgeries, can lead to complications. Potential side effects include infection, bleeding, tension pneumothorax (air trapped between the lung and chest wall, which can cause the lung to collapse), empyema (a collection of pus in the chest cavity), and bronchopleural fistula (a tube-like opening that causes air or fluid to leak at the surgical site).

Specific medical conditions may lead to other possible side effects. Discuss risks with your doctor before any surgical procedure.

How Does a Patient Prepare for a Lobectomy?

Prior to a procedure, a patient will need to fast for at least eight hours. Most often this means no eating after midnight.

Smokers are asked to stop smoking prior to a lobectomy. This improves the chances of a successful recovery.

Most patients receive a sedative before surgery to help them relax. This will be done at the hospital or clinic shortly before the procedure.

A doctor may also recommend other preparatory measures.

What Is the Outlook After a Lobectomy?

Most patients spend four to six days in the hospital after a lobectomy. Some are able to go back to work or other normal activities shortly after that, but most have to stay home for four to six weeks until they are fully recovered. Patients must avoid heavy lifting for six to twelve weeks after surgery, or until a doctor determines physical fitness.

After the surgery, a doctor will suggest a plan for a patient's activity levels and diet while the incisions heal. A doctor will normally ask for a follow up appointment a week after the lobectomy. The doctor will check the status of the incisions and take an X-ray to make sure the area around the removed lobe is healing properly. If everything goes well, a patient will be fully healed in less than three months.

What Are the Results of Lobectomy?

For some patients, a lobectomy eliminates a medical problem. For others, it merely slows a disease’s progression or eases symptoms. In the case of lung cancer, a patient may go into remission after a lobectomy, or he or she may require other treatments to kill off any cancer cells that remain in the body. Other conditions may require additional medical attention as needed.

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