(Lung Surgery; Surgery, Lung)
How to Say It: THOR-uh-cot-uh-mee
by Amy Scholten, MPH
A thoracotomy is surgery to open the chest.
Reasons for Procedure
This surgery is done to access the chest to diagnose or treat diseases of the lungs, aorta, heart, diaphragm, and spine. For example, the opening may be used to:
Problems are rare, but all procedures have some risk. The doctor will go over some problems that could happen, such as:
Things that may raise the risk of problems are:
What to Expect
Prior to Procedure
The surgical team may meet with you to talk about:
The doctor will give general anesthesia. You will be asleep.
Description of Procedure
An incision will be made between two ribs on the left or right side of the chest. The chest wall will then be opened. A tube will be inserted to drain fluid or air. Any needed procedure will be done at this time. The chest will be closed. The incisions will be closed with stitches or staples. A bandage will be placed over the site.
How Long Will It Take?
About 3 to 4 hours or longer
Will It Hurt?
Pain is common in the first six weeks. Medicine and home care help.
Average Hospital Stay
The usual length of stay is 5 to 10 days. If you have problems you may need to stay longer.
At the Hospital
After the procedure, the staff may:
During your stay, the hospital staff will take steps to lower your risk of infection, such as:
There are also steps you can take to lower your risk of infection, such as:
Recovery may take 4 to 6 weeks. Physical activity will be limited during this time. You will need to ask for help with daily activities and delay return to work.
Call Your Doctor
Call your doctor if you are not getting better or you have:
If you think you have an emergency, call for medical help right away.
American Thoracic Society
The Society of Thoracic Surgeons
Canadian Society for Vascular Surgery
The Lung Association
Hemothorax. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/condition/hemothorax. Accessed January 13, 2021.
Raveglia F, Scarci M. J Thorac Dis. 2019 Mar; 11(3): 370–375.Ultimate management of post thoracotomy morbidities: a set of surgical technique and peri-operative precautions.
Thoracotomy. American Lung Association website. Available at: https://www.lung.org/lung-health-diseases/lung-procedures-and-tests/thoracotomy. Accessed January 13, 2021.
Last reviewed February 2020 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Marcin Chwistek, MD
Last Updated: 1/13/2021