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Thoracotomy

A thoracotomy is a surgical procedure performed to open the chest cavity. It is a six- to 10-inch incision made into the chest that allows surgeons to access the throat, lungs, heart and diaphragm.

A thoracotomy incision can be made:

  • Between the ribs on the front or side of the chest (limited anterior or lateral thoracotomy)
  • Down the front of the chest, through the breastbone (sternal splitting thoracotomy)
  • Across the side and around the back of the chest (posterolateral thoracotomy)

A thoracotomy may be part of a patient’s surgical treatment if he or she has been diagnosed with diseases, disorders or conditions such as:

  • Heart disease
  • Lung cancer or some other types of cancer
  • Permanently collapsed lung tissue (atelectasis)
  • Diseased or damaged lung tissue
  • Diseased or damaged blood vessels in the heart or lung
  • Blood in the lungs (hemothorax)
  • Infection in the chest cavity (empyema)
  • Diaphragm disorders
  • Esophageal or trachea (windpipe) conditions

Depending on the type of disease or disorder a patient has been diagnosed with, a surgeon will perform a thoracotomy followed by another surgical procedure, such as a:

  • Lobectomy (removal of one or more lobes of the lungs)
  • Esophagectomy (removal of all or part of the esophagus)
  • Wedge resection (removal of part of a lung lobe)
  • Pneumonectomy (removal of an entire lung)
  • Decortication (removal of an organ’s membrane or covering)
  • Open heart surgery
  • Heart or lung transplant
  • Tumor removal
  • Tissue biopsy

A thoracotomy and the surgical procedure that follows it can take several hours. Because a thoracotomy is a major, open surgery, patients need to stay in the hospital for about a week.

When possible, our surgeons perform video-assisted thoracoscopic surgery instead of a thoracotomy. The minimally invasive procedure allows us to diagnose and treat some of the same diseases and disorders as a thoracotomy, but with potentially less post-operative pain, fewer complications and a shorter hospital stay.

High-risk adults urged to get lung cancer screenings

lung cancer screening

Healthy, high-risk adults between the ages of 55 and 80 should get annual lung cancer screenings, recommends an independent panel of medical experts.

Care under one roof

care under one roof

You'll find diagnostic testing and treatments, as well as a variety of support resources, onsite at our hospital.

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