What is a thoracotomy?
A thoracotomy is the surgical opening of your chest cavity. It is a major surgery that allows your surgeon to access your throat, lungs, heart, aorta and diaphragm. Generally, a thoracotomy incision is located on the side of your chest. However, the exact location of a thoracotomy will depend on the disease, disorder or condition that your surgeon is treating.
A thoracotomy is a common but major surgery with serious risks and potential complications. You may have less invasive treatment options. You should consider getting a second opinion about all your treatment choices before having a thoracotomy.
Types of thoracotomy
The types of thoracotomy procedures include:
Limited anterior or lateral thoracotomy is an incision between your ribs on the front or side of your chest. It is a smaller incision and allows access to the structures and organs in the front of your chest cavity.
Posterolateral thoracotomy is an incision across the side and around the back of your chest. It is a larger incision that allows access to more of your chest, including an entire lung.
Sternal splitting thoracotomy is an incision down the front of your chest and through your sternum (breastbone). It allows access to your entire chest, including both lungs and your heart.
Other procedures that may be performed
Your doctor may perform other procedures in addition to a thoracotomy. These include:
Decortication to remove a membrane or a fibrous covering of an organ
Esophagectomy to remove all or part of the esophagus
Lobectomy, the removal of one or more lobes of the lungs
Lung or heart transplant, the replacement of either your heart or lung with a donor organ
Open heart surgery, in which the surgeon cuts open the chest for surgery on the heart
Pneumonectomy, the removal of an entire lung
Tissue biopsy, to remove a cell or tissue sample and test it for cancer and other diseases
Wedge resection, to remove part of a lobe of a lung
Healthgrades Operating Company, Inc. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced
or reprinted without permission from Healthgrades Operating Company, Inc. Use
of this information is governed by the Healthgrades User Agreement.
Pile, JC. Evaluating postoperative fever: A focused approach. Cleveland Clinic Journal of Medicine. 2006;73 (Suppl 1):S62. http://ccjm.org/content/73/Suppl_1/S62.full.pdf. Accessed October 4, 2011.
Preparing For Your Thoracotomy. University of Michigan. http://www.med.umich.edu/1libr/surgery/thoracicsurgery/Thoracotomy.pdf. Accessed June 16, 2013.
Thoracotomy. Aurora Healthcare. http://www.aurorahealthcare.org/yourhealth/healthgate/getcontent.asp?URLhealthgate=%2214870.html%22. Accessed June 16, 2013.
Thoracotomy. Merck Manual For Healthcare Professionals. http://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/pulmonary_disorders/diagnostic_pulmonary_procedures/thoraco.... Accessed June 16, 2013.
Thoracotomy. Thoracic Surgery Associates, PC. http://www.chest-surgery.com/disease-info/images/thoracotomy/Thoracotomy.pdf. Accessed June 16, 2013.