Descriptions below give general descriptions of thoracic surgeries (surgeries performed on the chest wall or soft tissues of the chest) and conditions that may require thoracic surgery. Note that these descriptions are only for general reference and may not be relevant to your particular case. Please consult with your surgeon about your specific surgical plan and any special circumstances.
Benign lung disease refers to non-cancerous tumors within the lungs. Benign lung tumors may be referred to as nodules or masses. Benign tumors will not spread to other parts of the body, grow slowly, and sometimes even shrink on their own. Benign lung tumors often do not need to be removed surgically. They frequently do not cause symptoms and may be found only when a CT scan or chest x-ray is performed for an unrelated reason. Benign lung disease may be caused by scar tissue, HPV infection, or smoking, but sometimes no cause can be identified.
- Persistent coughing or wheezing
- Shortness of breath
- Coughing up blood
- Rattling sound in lungs
- Lung tissue collapse
When benign lung disease causes uncomfortable symptoms, surgical removal of the tumor may be warranted.
Recovery depends on the extent of surgical treatment.
The lungs are spongy organs in your chest that take in oxygen when you inhale and release carbon dioxide when you exhale. Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer deaths in the United States. Smoking greatly increases your risk of developing lung cancer.
- New, persistent cough
- Changes in a chronic cough
- Coughing up blood
- Shortness of breath
- Chest pain
- Unexplained weight loss
- Bone pain
There are several different surgical procedures used to treat lung cancer. Your surgeon may choose to perform a wedge resection (remove a small section of the lung containing the tumor as well as some healthy tissue), a segmental resection (remove a larger part of the lung, but not an entire lobe), a lobectomy (remove an entire lobe of one lung), or pneumonectomy (remove an entire lung). Lung surgery can either be performed as an open surgery (a thoracotomy) or as a VATS procedure (video-assisted thoracic surgery). The latter is less invasive.
Expect a 5-7 night hospital stay for a thoracotomy and a 1-3 night hospital stay for a VATS procedure. Some time in the ICU may be required. Deep breathing exercises will be required to prevent pneumonia and infection. A chest tube will remain in place until the lung that was operated on has fully re-inflated. Your doctor will determine whether chemotherapy or radiation is needed following your surgery.
A rib fracture is when a bone in your rib cage breaks or cracks. Chest trauma is the most common cause of a rib fracture. Severe coughing can also lead to broken ribs. Cracked ribs are painful but will usually heal on their own in one to two months. Ribs that have broken into pieces can be dangerous because they can damage major blood vessels or internal organs and so may require surgical treatment.
Signs of rib fractures include pain that worsens when:
- You take a deep breath
- You press on the injured area
- You bend or twist
Though rib fractures often heal on their own, in cases of multiple fractures or particularly severe fracture, rib fixation surgery may be recommended. In rib fixation surgery, the affected ribs are held together with hardware to ensure complete recovery and reduce chances of pneumonia and chest deformity.
Patients can usually resume normal physical activity after 6 weeks.
Spontaneous pneumothorax (collapsed lung) can be caused by chest injury, certain medical procedures, or lung disease. When a lung collapses, air leaks into the space between your lung and chest wall, causing the lung to collapse. In most cases, only part of the lung collapses.
- Sudden chest pain and shortness of breath
Chest tubes are often inserted in order to remove excess air pressing on the collapsed lung. If the chest tube treatment is insufficient, surgical treatment may be required in order to close the air leak and remove blebs (small balloon-like tissues that cause the leak). Surgery is usually performed via small incisions using a fiber-optic camera and long, narrow surgical tools. In rare instances, a larger incision may have to be made in order to achieve better access or close larger leaks. The chest wall is then abraded to prevent recurrent collapse.
Recovery time depends on the extent of surgical intervention.