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A pneumonectomy is a surgical procedure to remove one lung. It is the most extensive type of lung removal surgery. Surgeons most often perform it to remove lung masses and growths, like non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC), but sometimes doctors will remove a lung to treat other conditions, such as:

  • COPD
  • Tuberculosis (TB)
  • Traumatic lung injury
  • Congenital lung disease (lung disease you’re born with)

Not all people with lung disease are good candidates for pneumonectomy. If you’re going to have a lung removed, your other lung will have to pick up the slack, so to speak, and will have to work harder to bring in enough oxygen and get rid of carbon dioxide. People who are in poor health or don’t have enough lung function usually cannot have a pneumonectomy. 

When used as a treatment for lung cancer, a pneumonectomy is done with the goal of completely removing all cancer from the body. Because of the risks, doctors only perform pneumonectomy if there is a high chance of a cure and if you are in good enough health to live with one lung after the surgery. 

Your doctor will consider several factors before deciding whether a pneumonectomy is the right treatment for NSCLC, including:

  • Where the tumor is and how big it is
  • Whether cancer has spread to the lymph nodes or other areas of your body
  • How well your lungs and heart are functioning
  • The condition of your overall health

If you’re in good health and there’s a good chance the procedure will cure your lung cancer, your doctor may recommend a pneumonectomy to remove your affected lung.

Simple pneumonectomy versus extrapleural pneumonectomy

There are two basic types of pneumonectomy – simple pneumonectomy and extrapleural pneumonectomy. 

A simple pneumonectomy, also called a standard pneumonectomy, is the most common type of surgery used to remove an entire lung. During this procedure, doctors only remove only the lung itself. It can be done on either the right or the left lung. 

During an extrapleural pneumonectomy, doctors remove the affected lung and portions of the diaphragm, pericardium, and pleura. Doctors typically do it to treat malignant mesothelioma, which is a type of cancer that affects the membrane that lines the chest cavity and surrounds the lungs (the pleura).

Recovering from pneumonectomy

There are two basic parts of recovery – immediate post-operative recovery (time spent in the hospital) and long-term recovery (time spent at home). Making a full recovery can take from weeks to months depending on which method your doctor uses to remove your lung and how well your body handles the surgery.

Recovering in the hospital

After your surgery, you will likely stay in an intensive care unit where doctors and nurses can monitor you and your vital signs. They will watch your heart rate, breathing rate, and blood pressure and the oxygen levels in your blood. You may receive oxygen through a nasal tube to help ensure you get enough oxygen to your body. You may be sore, but you shouldn’t feel a lot of pain. You may have breathing therapy, which will help remove any fluid buildup in your remaining lung. You may also wear compression socks to help prevent blood clots from forming in your legs.

Recovering at home

When you’re home, you may feel tired and weak at first, but you should begin to regain your strength slowly. Don’t worry if it doesn’t happen as fast as you’d like it to. In time, you will get stronger and begin to feel like yourself again.

Even if you’re tired, you still need to get up and walk at least a few times per day. This it to keep your blood flowing, help prevent blood clots, and help keep your lungs functioning well, among other things. Talk to your doctor about when to begin walking and how often you should walk.

You will have some physical limitations. It’s important to talk to your doctor about what they are and when you can start your normal activities again. You won’t be able to drive at first, and you should not lift anything heavy for several weeks. 

You will also have to follow instructions related to:

  • Which medications you should take and how often you should take them
  • When to start exercising, what type of exercise you can do, and how often you should do it
  • What and how often you should eat and drink (and what you shouldn’t eat or drink)
  • How to care for your wounds
  • What type of symptoms to look out for and who to contact if you have questions or problems

During recovery, you should call your healthcare provider any time you have questions. If you have any signs of an infection or other complications of surgery, you should contact your doctor. If you notice any of the following, call your doctor immediately:

  • Fever of 100.4 or higher (or above the limit your doctor recommends)
  • Redness or swelling near the surgical incision
  • Increasing pain, especially around the incision
  • Shortness of breath, difficulty breathing, or pain while breathing
  • Chest pain
  • Cough
  • Coughing up green, yellow, or bloody phlegm
  • Confusion

Lung cancer treatment at Beaumont

Through Beaumont’s Multidisciplinary Lung Cancer program, we develop an individualized treatment plan based on your unique situation. Your doctor will work closely with you to develop the most effective treatment plan for you.