Background Information about the severity of symptoms during recovery from surgery for lung cancer can be useful in planning and anticipating needs for recovery.

Objectives To describe symptom severity during the first 4 months after thoracotomy for non–small cell lung cancer and factors associated with overall symptom severity at 1 and 4 months.

Methods Ninety-four patients were assessed at 1, 2, and 4 months after thoracotomy by using the Lung Cancer Symptom Scale, Brief Pain Inventory, Schwartz Fatigue Scale, Dyspnea Index, and Center for Epidemiology Studies–Depression Scale (CES-D). Clinically meaningful changes, decrease in the proportion of patients with severe symptoms, and relationships among symptoms were determined. Mixed effects models for repeated measures were used to evaluate changes in severity. Multiple regression models were used to examine correlates of overall symptoms.

Results Mean symptom severity significantly decreased over time for most symptoms. Only disrupted appetite, pain, and dyspnea had clinically meaningful improvement at 4 months. Severe symptoms included fatigue (57%), dyspnea (49%), cough (29%), and pain (20%). Prevalence of depressed mood decreased at 4 months. Most patients (77%) had comorbid conditions. Number of comorbid conditions and CES-D explained 54% of the variance in symptom severity at 1 month; comorbid conditions, male sex, neoadjuvant treatment, and CES-D score explained 50% of the variance at 4 months.

Conclusions Severe symptoms continued 4 months after surgery for some patients, indicating the need for support during recovery, especially for patients with multiple comorbid conditions and depressed mood.

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