Type of Surgery


Doctor Certified

Last updated: 02/17/2009


The thoracotomy incision may be made on the side, under the arm (axillary thoracotomy); on the front, through the breastbone (median sternotomy); slanting from the back to the side (posterolateral thoracotomy); or under the breast (anterolateral thoracotomy)....

The exact location of the cut depends on the reason for the surgery. In some cases, the physician is able to make the incision between ribs (called an intercostal approach) to minimize cuts through bone, nerves, and muscle. The incision may range from just under 5 in (12.7 cm) to 10 in (25 cm).

During the surgery, a tube is passed through the trachea. It usually has a branch to each lung. One lung is deflated for examination and surgery, while the other one is inflated with the assistance of a mechanical device (a ventilator).

A number of different procedures may be commenced at this point. A lobectomy removes an entire lobe or section of a lung (the right lung has three lobes and the left lung has two). It may be done to remove cancer that is contained by a lobe. A segmentectomy, or wedge resection, removes a wedge-shaped piece of lung smaller than a lobe. Alternatively, the entire lung may be removed during a pneumonectomy.

In the case of an emergency thoracotomy, the procedure performed depends on the type and extent of injury. The heart may be exposed so that direct cardiac compressions can be performed; the physician may use one hand or both hands to manually pump blood through the heart. Internal paddles of a defibrillating machine may be applied directly to the heart to restore normal cardiac rhythms. Injuries to the heart causing excessive bleeding (hemorrhaging) may be closed with staples or stitches.

Once the procedure that required the incision is completed, the chest wall is closed. The layers of skin, muscle, and other tissues are closed with stitches or staples. If the breastbone was cut (as in the case of a median sternotomy), it is stitched back together with wire.




Other Information

Thoracotomy is an incision into the chest. It is performed by a surgeon, and, rarely, by emergency physicians and paramedics, to gain access to the thoracic organs, most commonly the heart, the lungs, the esophagus or thoracic aorta, or for access to the anterior spine such as is necessary for access to tumors in the spine.

Thoracotomy is a major surgical maneuver—the first step in many thoracic surgeries including lobectomy or pneumonectomy for lung cancer—and as such requires general anesthesia with endotracheal tube insertion and mechanical ventilation.

Thoracotomies are thought to be one of the hardest surgical incisions to deal with post-op, because they are exquisitely painful and the pain can prevent the patient from breathing effectively, leading to atelectasis or pneumonia.

From http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thoracotomy

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