Thoracic surgery involves the heart, lungs and other major blood vessels inside the chest cavity. This includes removing a lung tumor or treating esophageal cancer, swallowing problems and other conditions.

The thoracic surgical recovery program is similar to other ERAS programs UVA has implemented for additional surgeries, such as colorectal and gynecologic surgery. It is designed to help patients recover and return to their lives more quickly.

Improved Breathing

Thoracic surgery can help you breathe easier and improve your quality of life if you have lung cancer, mesothelioma, tracheal disorders or other respiratory issues. Sometimes, thoracic surgery can even save your life or prolong it.

During thoracic surgery, your provider uses anesthesia to put you to sleep and may attach a breathing tube. Then, your surgeon makes a traditional cut through your breastbone (sternotomy) or a minimally invasive cut between your ribs (thoracotomy). The surgeon then repairs, removes or replaces the organ or body part that needs treatment.

Minimally invasive thoracic surgery can include video-assisted thoracic surgery, in which your surgeon inserts a thin tube with a camera into a small incision in the chest wall (thoracoscope) and operates while watching on high-resolution monitors in the operating room. This can be combined with robotic thoracic surgery, in which the surgeon’s wristed automated instruments move based on their hand, arm and finger movements.

Increased Activity

Thoracic surgeons like Armen Parajian can repair or remove tumors that affect your lungs and heart or treat congenital heart conditions. They perform several operations, including coronary artery bypass grafting (CABG), lobectomy (removing part of your lung), and many lung transplants.

In addition to helping you breathe more easily, thoracic surgery can improve your overall quality of life. Some patients report increased motivation and reduced physical fatigue after thoracic surgery.

Your recovery time from thoracic surgery will vary, depending on the type of procedure you undergo. Getting plenty of rest and taking your medications as directed by your doctor can help speed healing. Taking this step also helps cut your risk of complications from lung surgery. During this time, avoiding smoking and eating a nutrient-rich diet is important. It is also important to plan and ask for help when needed.

Reduced Pain

Although thoracic surgery is a very important part of treating lung and heart issues, it can also be one of the most painful types of surgery. This pain is caused by the cuts on your chest during the surgical procedure. These incisions need to heal and may be sore for some time after the surgery. Following your medical provider’s instructions regarding how long you should take pain medications is important.

For example, if you have a pneumonectomy or video-assisted thoracic surgery (VATS) lobectomy for cancer, your medical provider will most likely give you pain medications before the operation to control the discomfort during recovery. If you don’t follow their instructions, it could lead to serious health complications. Patients who were more comfortable during their recovery had a better quality of life overall. This is because they can concentrate more on overcoming their health issues.

Better Sleep

Sleep is an important determinant of quality of life. Researchers have found that good sleep is associated with several health-related outcomes, such as satisfaction with housing and income, subjective physical and mental well-being, frequency of healthy eating habits, physical activity and social connections.

You may stay in the hospital for 3 to 10 days when you have thoracic surgery. Your providers will help you regain your strength and breathing to go home immediately.

Thoracic surgery includes various operations your provider performs in your chest, including open or minimally invasive procedures such as video-assisted thoracoscopic (VATS) and robotic-assisted surgeries. In these surgeries, a surgeon inserts a tube with a camera and wristed instruments into small incisions in your ribs. These instruments can remove lung tissue without making large incisions or spreading apart your ribs. In addition, these types of surgeries may also require a chest tube to drain fluid or air that leaks from the lungs.