Lung Cancer

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Video-Assisted Thoracic Surgery

In traditional open-chest surgery, or thoracotomy, doctors cut through muscle and cut through or spread apart the rib cage. Seattle Cancer Care Alliance (SCCA) patients with lung cancer have a less invasive alternative if they need lung tissue removed: video-assisted thoracic surgery (VATS). The best candidates for VATS are those in the early stages of the disease. 

VATS lung resections are only available at specialized thoracic surgery programs, including at University of Washington Medical Center (UWMC), where SCCA patients have surgery. UWMC is one of only about 30 centers in the country where VATS is done.

video-assisted thoracic surgery

What Is VATS?

In a traditional thoracotomy, the surgeon makes a long incision—usually about 6 to 10 inches long—often from the patient’s back around to his or her side. VATS allows doctors to perform chest surgery through two to four small incisions, most less than an inch long. A camera inserted through one of the incisions guides their work. Images from the camera show on a video monitor. They use the other small incisions to insert surgical instruments.

Benefits of VATS

Compared to those who have open-chest surgery, VATS patients generally:

  • Spend less time in the hospital.
  • Recover faster.
  • Have less post-operative pain and need less pain medication.
  • Have less scarring.
  • Have better shoulder function.
  • Have better stamina and lung function when the same amount of lung tissue is removed.

Illustration courtesy of United States Surgical, a division of Tyco Healthcare Group LP. All rights reserved.