Each year, more than a million thoracic (chest) surgical procedures are performed in the United States for heart and lung disease, muscle and nerve disorders, ulcers and other serious illnesses.
Although surgery may be the best, or only way to treat the disease, patients can sometimes face a long and difficult recovery because traditional "open" thoracic surgery is highly invasive. In most cases, surgeons must make a long incision through chest muscles and then cut or spread the patient's ribs to reach the diseased area. As a result, patients may spend up to a week in the hospital and up to 4 to 6 weeks of recovery at home.
Now, a surgical technique known as video assisted thoracic surgery (VATS) is enabling surgeons to perform many common thoracic procedures in a minimally invasive manner. Depending on the type of procedure, most patients do not need intensive care, can leave the hospital in 1 to 3 days and, in many cases, are back to normal activities within a week.
What is video assisted thoracic surgery?
In most VATS procedures, surgeons operate through 2 to 4 tiny openings between the ribs while viewing the patient's internal organs on a television monitor. Each opening is less that one inch in diameter, whereas 6- to 10-inch incisions are not uncommon in open thoracic surgery.
What diseases can be treated with VATS?
Because it can offer patients significant advantages over open surgery, many surgeons believe that VATS will one day be used in the majority of all thoracic procedures. While not every patient is a candidate for video assisted thoracic surgery, VATS has been used to:
- Treat blebs on the lung (which can lead to a collapsed lung)
- Diagnose and treat fluid around the lung
- Diagnose and treat fluid around the heart
- Diagnose and treat mediastinal tumors (tumors in the area between the lungs)
- Diagnose, or stage, lung cancer
- Treat lung cancer in patients who cannot tolerate open surgery
- Reduce lung volume in emphysema patients