Thoracic surgery is a specialty that provides surgical treatment of chest conditions, including disorders of the lungs, esophagus, trachea, and other areas within the chest. Thoracic surgeons diagnose these chest disorders, perform critical chest-cavity procedures, and may conduct research for new thoracic surgical methods. Within the field of thoracic surgery, a surgeon sometimes has a distinct emphasis or subspecialty. For example, cardiothoracic surgeons have a greater focus on cardiac or heart problems.
Diseases requiring thoracic surgery are frequently categorized as severe and some require organ removal. However, the field of thoracic surgery is broad and also includes less invasive procedures such as lung drainage.
Some chest disorders a thoracic surgeon might treat include:
Thoracic surgeons can detect disorders through chest-scanning electrocardiograms and CT scans, lung biopsies or pulmonary function (breathing) tests.
Surgical treatments for tracheal disorders include tracheostomy (incision made for a connected oxygen machine) and airway reconstruction. Some other chest conditions are remedied by thoracostomy or thoracentesis, in which a drainage tube is inserted to remove fluid or air from the area around the lungs. Thoracic surgeons may conduct an esophagectomy to remove the esophagus. Lung-specific treatments differ by the amount of tissue removed. For example, a wedge resection is a minor incision of a lung nodule or lung tissue for biopsy, whereas a lobectomy is a surgical removal of a larger portion of lung tissue called a lung lobe. Thoracic surgeons may perform a total lung removal (pneumonectomy) or lung transplant if necessary.
Most general thoracic surgeons do not treat heart conditions like blocked valves and coronary artery disease. These operations are performed by cardiothoracic surgeons.
Thoracic surgery can benefit from the use of robotic operative arms and less-invasive VATS (video-assisted thoracoscopic surgery), which increase accuracy and patient safety.