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Discharge Instructions for Cancer of the Lung

You have been diagnosed with lung cancer, the abnormal and uncontrolled growth of cells in the lung. Treatment for lung cancer may include surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, or a combination of these. This sheet helps you remember how to care for yourself after treatment.

Home care after surgery

Here’s what to do at home following surgery for lung cancer.


  • Rest when you are tired. Don’t worry if you are fatigued. Fatigue and weakness are normal for a few weeks after having a lung removed.

  • Limit your activity to short walks. Gradually increase your pace and distance as you feel able.

  • Avoid strenuous activities such as mowing the lawn, using a vacuum cleaner, or playing sports.

  • Listen to your body. If an activity causes pain, stop. Breathing may cause some pain at the incision site. This is normal.

  • Don’t drive until you are free of pain and no longer taking opioid pain medication. This may take 2 to 4 weeks.

  • Avoid sitting with your legs down for long periods.

  • Don’t lift anything heavier than 10 pounds for 4 to 6 weeks.

Incision care

  • Leave the small white strips (Steri-Strips) over your incision in place for 7 to 10 days after your surgery.

  • Always keep your incision clean and dry.

  • Shower as needed. Wash your incision gently with mild soap and warm water and pat dry. Avoid scrubbing your incision.

Other home care

  • Lie on the side of your surgery, with your good lung up (toward the ceiling).

  • Call your doctor if you are coughing up brownish sputum or blood. Lie on the side of your operation with your good lung up while you wait for help.

  • Learn to check your own pulse. Keep a record of your results. Ask your doctor which pulse rates mean that you need medical attention.

  • Check your temperature every day for 7 days after your surgery.

  • Use your incentive spirometer 5 times a day for the first 2 weeks you are home.

  • Return to your regular diet as you feel able. Eat a healthy, well-balanced diet.

  • Avoid constipation. 

    • Eat fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. 

    • Drink 6 to 8 glasses of water a day, unless directed otherwise. 

    • Use a laxative or a mild stool softener if your doctor says it’s OK. 

Home care after chemotherapy

Here’s what to do at home following chemotherapy for lung cancer.

Prevent mouth sores

Many people get mouth sores during chemotherapy. So, don’t be discouraged if you do, even if you are following all your doctor’s instructions. Do the following to help prevent mouth sores or to ease discomfort:

  • Brush your teeth with a soft-bristle toothbrush after every meal.

  • Don’t use dental floss if your platelet count is below 50,000. Your doctor or nurse will tell you if this is the case.

  • Use an oral swab or special soft toothbrush if your gums bleed during regular brushing.

  • Use any mouthwashes given to you as directed.

  • If you can’t tolerate regular methods, use salt and baking soda to clean your mouth. Mix 1 teaspoon(s) of salt and 1 teaspoon(s) of baking soda into an 8-ounce glass of warm water. Swish and spit.

  • Watch your mouth and tongue for white patches. This is a sign of fungal infection, a common side effect of chemotherapy. Be sure to tell your doctor about these patches. Medication can be prescribed to help you fight the fungal infection.

Manage other side effects

  • Try to exercise. Exercise keeps you strong and keeps your heart and lungs active. Walk as much as you can without becoming dizzy or weak.

  • During treatment, your body can’t fight germs very well. Wash your hands often. Avoid people who are sick.

  • Take short baths or showers with warm water. Avoid very hot or cold water.

  • Use moisturizing soap. Treatment can make your skin dry.

  • Apply moisturizing lotion several times a day to help relieve dry skin.

  • Let your doctor know if your throat is sore. You may have an infection that needs treatment.

  • Remember, many patients feel sick and lose their appetites during treatment. Eat small meals several times a day to keep your strength up.

    • Choose bland foods with little taste or smell if you are reacting strongly to food.

    • Be sure to cook all food thoroughly. This kills bacteria and helps you avoid infection.

    • Eat foods that are soft. Soft foods are less likely to cause stomach irritation.

Home care after radiation

Here’s what to do at home following radiation for lung cancer.

Skin care

  • Don’t scrub or use soap on the treated area.

  • Ask your therapy team which lotion to use. 

  • Avoid sun on the treated area. Ask your therapy team about using a sunscreen.

  • Don’t remove ink marks unless your radiation therapist says it’s okay. Don’t scrub or use soap on the marks when you wash. Let water run over them and pat them dry. 

  • Protect your skin from heat or cold. Avoid hot tubs, saunas, heating pads, and ice packs.

  • Wear soft, loose clothing to avoid rubbing your skin.

Other home care

  • Stock up on easy-to-prepare foods.

  • Eat foods high in protein and calories.

  • Drink plenty of water and other fluids, unless directed otherwise.

  • Don’t be surprised if your treatment causes slight burns to your skin. Ask for a special cream to help relieve the burn and protect your skin.

  • Be prepared for hair loss or sunburn-like skin irritation in the area being treated. 

  • If your mouth or throat becomes dry or sore, sip cool water. Ice chips may also help.

Follow-up care

Make a follow-up appointment as directed.

When to seek medical care

Call your doctor immediately if you have any of the following:

  • Any chest pain or shortness of breath

  • Fever of  100.4°F  (38.0°C) or higher, or chills

  • Any unusual bleeding

  • Signs of infection around the incision (redness, drainage, warmth, pain)

  • Incision that opens up or pulls apart

  • Trouble concentrating

  • Ongoing fatigue

  • Rapid, irregular heartbeat; new chest pain

  • Dizziness, lightheadedness

  • Constant feeling of being cold

  • New or unusual lumps, bumps, or swelling

  • Persistent coughing

  • Brown or bloody sputum

  • Persistent nausea or diarrhea


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