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What is video-assisted thoracoscopic surgery (VATS)?

Video-assisted thoracoscopic surgery (VATS) is a less invasive surgical procedure for treating early stage lung cancer. During this procedure, the surgeon places a small hollow tube with a video camera attached to it into your chest. This tube, or scope, helps him see the tumor. Only small surgical cuts (incisions) are needed to make room for the tube, so you have less pain and a shorter recovery period than with standard surgery.

Most experts recommend the VATS procedure only be used for tumors that are smaller than three to four centimeters (about an inch and a half).

This surgery requires more technical skill than the standard procedure. It is important that it be done by a specially trained and experienced surgeon.

Dr. Vijay K. Nuthakki, MD
Cardiothoracic Surgeon

Video-assisted thoracic surgery refers to operations performed in the chest with the help of a small camera. The camera is introduced through a small opening in the chest, while other small openings or incisions are made to allow placement of instruments to perform various operations which previously would have needed a thoracotomy ( a large incision on the side of the chest to allow the surgeon to look inside to perform an operation). 

The ribs provide rigid support to the chest wall and this combined with single lung ventilation (the anesthesiologist allows flow of air only in to the appropriate side) "creates" a space. The camera allows visualization of the outside of the lung, inner surface of the chest wall, pericardium, esophagus and diaphragm.

Video-assisted thoracoscopic surgery (VATS) is used to examine a small lung nodule. In this technique, the surgeon makes two or three one-inch incisions between the ribs. A camera attached to a telescope is placed in one of the incisions to magnifies the field of view. The camera is used to examine the entire chest cavity, including portions of the lung. The surgeon then excises the nodule and gives it to the pathologist to examine under a microscope. if the nodule is cancerous, the surgeon can proceed to remove the entire lobe where the cancer has arisen using the same technique.
Dr. Laki J. Rousou, MD
Cardiothoracic Surgeon

Video-assisted thoracoscopic surgery (VATS) is like laparoscopic surgery, but in the chest. A small incision, about a centimeter, is made and a camera, along with other long instruments, is used to carry out the operation. With the incorporation of robotics, more complex operations can potentially be done with smaller incisions. With VATS, the pain is less, hospital stay is shorter and there is less blood loss. 

Trinity Health is a Catholic health care organization that acts in accordance with the Catholic tradition and does not condone or support all practices covered in this site. In case of emergency call 911. This site is educational and not a substitute for professional medical advice, always seek the advice of a qualified healthcare provider.

Chest and lung surgery have traditionally been difficult to recover from, but doctors are now able to offer video-assisted thoracic surgery (VATS). Traditional thoracic surgery usually involves a large incision and spreading the ribs apart to get inside the chest. With VATS surgery, doctors are able to do an operation through very small incisions of usually one inch or two inches.

Quality is not sacrificed: Doctors just do the surgery through a smaller incision. A smaller incision is less traumatic, there's less pain, and there's a shorter recovery time.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.