Robot-Assisted Thoracic Procedures
by Krisha McCoy, MS
Thoracic surgery is done on the chest, but it does not involve surgery on the heart. With robot-assisted thoracic procedures, the doctor guides small robotic arms through keyhole incisions.
Reasons for Procedure TOP
Robot-assisted thoracic procedures are considered for surgeries that:
Some thoracic surgeries that have been successfully performed using robotic techniques include:
Compared to more traditional procedures, robotic-assisted surgery may result in:
Possible Complications TOP
Problems from the procedure are rare, but all procedures have some risk. Your doctor will review potential problems, like:
Some factors that may increase the risk of complications include:
Be sure to discuss these risks with your doctor before the procedure.
What to Expect TOP
Prior to Procedure
Depending on the reason for your surgery, your doctor may do the following:
Leading up to the procedure:
General anesthesia will be used. It will block any pain and keep you asleep through the surgery.
Description of the Procedure TOP
You will be connected to a ventilator. This is a machine that moves air in and out of your lungs. Next, several keyhole openings will be cut in the chest wall between the ribs. One or more chest tubes may be placed into the side of the chest. These tubes will be used to drain fluid and monitor air leakage. A needle may be used to inject carbon dioxide gas into the chest cavity. The gas will make it easier for internal structures to be viewed.
A small camera, called an endoscope, will be passed through one of the incisions. The camera will light, magnify, and project the structures onto a video screen. The camera will be attached to one of the robotic arms. The other arms will hold instruments for grasping, cutting, dissecting, and suturing. These may include:
While sitting at a console near the operating table, the doctor will use lenses to look at magnified 3D images of the inside of the body. Another doctor will stay by the table to adjust the camera and tools. With joystick-like controls and foot pedals, the doctor will guide the robotic arms and tools to remove organs and tissue. After the tools are removed, the doctor will use sutures or staples to close the surgical area.
Immediately After Procedure TOP
If you are doing well, the breathing tube will be removed. Later, the chest tubes will be removed.
How Long Will It Take? TOP
About 1-4 hours, depending on the procedure
How Much Will It Hurt? TOP
Anesthesia will prevent pain during surgery. Pain and discomfort after the procedure can be managed with medications. You may also feel discomfort from the gas used during the procedure. This can last up to 3 days.
Average Hospital Stay TOP
This procedure is done in a hospital setting. The usual length of stay is a few days. Your doctor may choose to keep you longer if you have any problems.
Post-procedure Care TOP
At the Hospital
While you are recovering at the hospital, you may receive the following care:
When you return home, do the following to help ensure a smooth recovery:
Depending on the procedure, you should recover within a few weeks.
Call Your Doctor TOP
It is important for you to monitor your recovery after you leave the hospital. Alert your doctor to any problems right away. If any of the following occur, call your doctor:
If you think you have an emergency, call for medical help right away.
American College of Surgeons
Society of Thoracic Surgeons
Canadian Agency for Drugs and Technologies in Health
Canadian Lung Association
Rea F, Marulli G, et al. Robotic video-assisted thoracoscopic thymectomy. Multimed Man Cardiothorac Surg. 2005.
Sympathectomy. New York Presbyterian Hospital website. Available at:
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Accessed July 25. 2013.
Thymectomy. Myasthenia Gravis Foundation of America website. Available at:
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Accessed July 25, 2013.
Last reviewed February 2015 by Michael Woods, MD
Last Updated: 9/30/2013