It is possible to live with one lung after lung cancer or mesothelioma surgery. The human body is capable of adapting to the loss of one lung, and many people who have undergone lung resection surgery (removal of part or all of the lung) go on to lead active and normal lives.
After surgery, the remaining lung will enlarge and take on some of the functions of the removed lung. The body also has mechanisms to compensate for the loss of lung function, such as increasing the efficiency of gas exchange in the remaining lung and increasing the breathing rate.
However, living with one lung may cause shortness of breath and reduced exercise tolerance, especially in the first few weeks or months after surgery. Your doctor may recommend pulmonary rehabilitation or breathing exercises to help you regain lung function and improve your ability to perform daily activities.
It’s also important to note that the ability to live with one lung after lung cancer or mesothelioma surgery depends on several factors, such as the extent of cancer or the type of mesothelioma, the type of surgery performed, and the overall health and fitness of the patient. Your doctor can provide more information about your individual case and what to expect after surgery.
Compensatory Lung Growth
After lung surgery, the remaining lung will undergo compensatory lung growth, where it enlarges and takes on more functions of the removed lung. This is possible because the lungs have a remarkable ability to regenerate and adapt to changes in lung function. The remaining lung tissue will increase in size and develop new blood vessels to deliver oxygen and nutrients to the tissue.
Additionally, the body has mechanisms to compensate for the loss of lung function. The remaining lung will increase its efficiency in gas exchange to ensure that enough oxygen is delivered to the body. This can be accomplished by increasing the surface area of the alveoli (the small air sacs in the lungs where gas exchange occurs) and improving the ventilation-perfusion ratio (the balance between airflow and blood flow in the lungs). The body can also increase the breathing rate to ensure enough air is moving in and out of the lungs.
It’s important to note that the extent of compensatory lung growth and adaptation will vary depending on the individual’s overall health and fitness level, as well as the extent of lung tissue that was removed. In some cases, pulmonary rehabilitation or breathing exercises may be recommended to help improve lung function and breathing after surgery. Close monitoring by a healthcare team will also be important to ensure that the remaining lung functions properly and to manage any potential complications.
Side Effects of Having One Lung
If someone loses a lung, the remaining lung will take on more work to compensate for the loss of lung function. Over time, the remaining lung will enlarge and become more efficient at oxygen exchange. However, losing a lung can have some short-term and long-term effects on the body, including:
- Shortness of breath: After lung surgery, it’s common to experience shortness of breath, especially during physical activity. This is because the remaining lung has to work harder to deliver oxygen to the body.
- Reduced exercise tolerance: It may take some time to rebuild your physical endurance and stamina after losing a lung, but with appropriate exercise and rehabilitation, it is possible to improve your fitness level.
- Increased risk of respiratory infections: People with one lung are more susceptible to respiratory infections because they have less lung tissue to fight off infections.
- Changes in blood pressure: Losing a lung can cause changes in blood pressure, as the heart may have to work harder to pump blood through the lungs.
- Increased risk of lung cancer: People with one lung have an increased risk of developing lung cancer compared to people with two lungs.
- Changes in posture: Losing a lung can cause changes in posture, as the remaining lung may cause the chest to shift slightly. This can cause discomfort or pain in the neck, back, and shoulders.
It’s important to note that the body is capable of adapting to the loss of one lung, and many people who have undergone lung surgery go on to lead active and healthy lives. However, it’s important to work closely with your healthcare team to manage any potential complications and maintain your lung health.
Read on for some of the most commonly asked questions about living with one lung.
Can lung cancer be cured by removing a lung?
Surgery to remove a lung, called a pneumonectomy, is one of the treatment options for lung cancer. If the lung cancer is in an early stage and has not spread to other parts of the body, surgery can be curative. By removing the tumor along with the affected lung, the cancer can be completely eliminated from the body.
However, the success of the surgery depends on several factors, such as the size and location of the tumor, the stage of the cancer, and the overall health of the patient. If the cancer has spread beyond the lungs, surgery alone may not be enough to cure it.
What is the average life expectancy of a person with one lung?
The average life expectancy of a person with one lung can vary widely depending on many factors, including age, overall health, and the reason for the lung removal. However, most people with one lung can still live a relatively normal life expectancy.
Can a lung grow back after surgery?
The human lung cannot regenerate completely after it has been removed. However, the remaining lung tissue can undergo a process called compensatory lung growth, where it can enlarge and take on more functions of the removed lung.
When considering surgery for lung cancer or mesothelioma, it’s important to have a detailed discussion with your doctor about your individual case and what to expect after the procedure. Your doctor can provide you with information about the specific type of surgery that you will undergo, the expected recovery time, and any potential risks or complications associated with the surgery.
Your doctor may also recommend pulmonary rehabilitation or breathing exercises to help you regain lung function and improve your ability to perform daily activities. They will work with you to develop a plan for follow-up care and monitoring to ensure that any potential complications are detected and managed early.
It’s important to have open and honest communication with your doctor throughout the process and to follow their guidelines closely to ensure the best possible outcome. With appropriate care and monitoring, many people who have undergone lung surgery lead active and healthy lives.
- Beshara, M., et al. (2022). Pneumonectomy. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK555969/
- Hopkins, S. R. (2020). Ventilation/perfusion relationships and gas exchange: measurement approaches. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8274320/
- Mentzer, S. J. (2018). The puzzling mechanism of compensatory lung growth. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5897660/
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- Pulmonary rehabilitation. (2022). https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/pulmonary-rehabilitation
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