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A Less Invasive Lung Cancer Surgery

Video-Assisted Thoracic Surgery (VATS)

"With VATS lobectomy, there is a measurable difference in the time it takes for patients to feel back to normal. They go home sooner, experience less chest pain, have fewer complications post-op, and their chest tubes come out sooner."
- John R. Garrett, MD.

VATS procedureFor patients with early stage lung cancer, surgical removal of the lobe in which the tumor is located (lobectomy) offers the best chance for a cure. Until recently, the standard procedure has been to make a six-inch inch incision in the chest and spread the ribs apart with a retractor to give the surgeon a clearer view of the chest cavity and tumor.

Now, lobectomy can be performed using video-assisted thoracic surgery (VATS), a cutting-edge approach that is considerably less invasive. In lieu of one large chest incision, VATS is performed by inserting a small video camera and surgical instruments through a series of smaller incisions. Video captured from inside the chest is transmitted onto a computer monitor in the operating room. A cardiothoracic surgeon with specialized training in video imaging uses the monitor as a guide to complete the procedure. Robotic arms may be used to perform the surgery, using miniature surgical instruments that are also passed into the chest via the keyhole incisions. If necessary, this method can be abandoned during surgery and the surgeon can take over with a more traditional laparoscopic or open surgery approach. 

Lung cancer survival rates following VATS lobectomy are comparable to those for individuals who have undergone traditional lobectomy; however, VATS is offered only by a limited number of elite medical centers due to the advanced video and thoracic surgical skills that are required. Not all lung cancer patients are candidates for VATS lobectomy. The procedure may not be appropriate in cases involving large tumors, or tumors that are attached to the chest wall.

There are very few surgeons in the Northern Virginia, Washington Metropolitan area who are highly skilled in VATS procedures. However, thoracic surgeons at Virginia Hospital Center are highly skilled in Video-Assisted Thoracic Surgery (VATS) and have had great success in offering this approach to their patients. VATS often used to:

  • Conduct lung and pleural biopsies
  • Perform lobectomies

The advantages of VATS vs. the open approach

As compared to the traditional open-chest approach (Thoracotomy), the benefits of minimally invasive VATS for lung cancer diagnosis and treatment result in:

  • Reduced trauma to the body
  • Reduced risk of infection
  • Reduced risk of blood transfusion
  • Shorter hospital stay; usually 3 - 4 days, as opposed to 5 - 7 days (traditional)
  • Faster recovery
  • Less pain after the procedure

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