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Thoractomy

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Updated April 20, 2009

What is a thoractomy:

A thoractomy is a type of surgery that involves an incision to the chest. For most cases of lung cancer surgery, an incision is made on the patient's side.

Why is a thoractomy performed:

A thoractomy is performed to diagnose lung cancer, remove lung cancer, and for other benign conditions. It is mainly performed in early stage non-small cell lung cancer patients. In some instances of small cell lung cancer may be treated with lung cancer surgery.

Is a thoractomy painful:

Unfortnately, a thoractomy incision is one of the more painful surgical incisions. The incision involves the cutting of the rib muscles and spreading the rib apart.

Pain medication will be administered through a an epidural or through heavy pain medications

What exactly happens during a thoractomy for lung cancer:

An incision is made and three possible procedures may be performed depending the stage and type of lung cancer. Possible procedures inlcude:
  • Wedge resection: Part of the lung is removed along with a small amount of healthy tissue
  • Lobectomy: Removal of a lobe
  • Pneumonectomy: Removal of entire lung

Are chest/drain tubes used after a thoractomy:

Yes, one or two chest tubes are inserted into the chest to remove the fluids that may buildup in the lungs and to help your lung fill with air. The drain tubes will remain until there is no more fluid to drain and can vary from patient to patient.

What is recovery like after a thoractomy:

You may spend the first day or so in the Intensive Care Unit following surgery. This is normal procedudure after this type of surgery. You may be allowed to have small amounts of liquids and will slowly build to a normal diet over the next few days following surgery.

Pain will be controlled via IV, injection, epidural or with medication in pill form.

How long is the hospital stay after a thoractomy:

The amount of time spent recovering is typically a week to two weeks, however this depends in type of lung surgery performed, lung function after surgery, and general health of the patient.

When can I resume normal activities after a throactomy:

Most patients return to work with 6 to 8 weeks. Heavy lifting is not advised for at least 8 weeks. Recovery is a process that varies from patient to patient, and it important for the patient not too "push" recovery.

Sources:

The Society of Thoracic Surgeons: Lung/Thoracic Surgery

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