Thoracotomy Surgery

A thoracotomy with or without a videoscope is done to, confirm the diagnosis of lung cancer, remove lung cancer and remove scar tissue or fix an air leak in your lung.

How Well it Works

Surgery is more effective in early-stage non–small cell lung cancer when the lung cancer can be completely removed and the cancer has not spread to lymph nodes or outside the chest cavity. Surgery is sometimes used in limited-stage small-cell lung cancer when there is a single tumor and the cancer has not spread to the lymph nodes. But small cell lung cancers are not often diagnosed at this early stage.

Surgery Overview

Surgery to remove all or part of a lung involves making a cut on one side of your chest (thorax) during a procedure called a thoracotomy. Surgery that uses this approach avoids areas in the chest that contain the heart and the spinal cord.

After the cut is made between the ribs, all or part of the lung is removed depending on the location, size, and type of lung cancer that is present.

A video-assisted thoracoscopic surgery (VATS) may be done before or instead of a thoracotomy. This procedure involves inserting a long, thin tube (videoscope) with a camera attached and small surgical instruments into your chest through small cuts made between your ribs. The VATS method may be used to:

  • Confirm the diagnosis of lung cancer
  • Biopsy lymph nodes in the center part of your chest (mediastinum)
  • Perform a wedge resection of your lung cancer. This removes the cancer and the lung tissue surrounding the cancer
  • Remove the segment (lobe) of the lung that contains the cancer, in some cases. Your lungs are divided into parts called lobes. Your right lung has three lobes, and your left lung has two lobes
  • Removing a whole lobe is called a lobectomy

What to Expect After Surgery

Lung surgery requires you to stay in the hospital after the procedure. How long you stay will depend on:

  • Your remaining lung function
  • Your overall health before surgery
  • Which type of surgery was done

What to Think About

Lung surgery is most effective for early-stage lung cancers, especially non–small cell lung cancer. Lung function tests, possibly including a lung scan, are usually done before surgery is considered. You may not be a good candidate for surgery to remove all or part of a lung if you have poor lung function. Cardiac studies may also be done if you have any risk factors for complications from heart problems. Lung surgery may be done to confirm a diagnosis of lung cancer. Additional surgery, such as removing the affected lobe (lobectomy) or lymph node biopsies, may be done at the same time for treatment purposes.