What is VATS (video-assisted thoracic surgery)?

VATS (video-assisted thoracic surgery) is a type of minimally invasive surgery. It is used to diagnose and treat lung cancer, pleural effusion, and other chest and lung problems. VATS involves making at least two small chest incisions. Your doctor inserts a thoracoscope with a tiny camera to view the inside of the chest. The camera transmits pictures to a monitor. Your doctor can also insert special instruments through the incisions to perform treatments.

VATS is major surgery that has risks and potential complications. You may have less invasive treatment options. Consider getting a second opinion about all of your treatment choices before having VATS. 

Types of VATS (video-assisted thoracic surgery)

The types of VATS include:

  • Biopsy to take a tissue sample and examine it under a microscope to diagnose cancer and other diseases
  • Lobectomy to remove a large section of lung
  • Mediastinal procedures to treat problems of the area between the lungs (mediastinum)
  • Pericarial procedures to treat problems of the area around the heart (pericardium)
  • Sympathectomy to treat conditions related to the sympathetic nervous system
  • Thoracentesis to drain excess fluid from the area between the lungs and chest wall (pleural space)
  • Thymus procedures to treat problems of the thymus, a gland located in the chest
  • Wedge resection to remove a small portion of lung tissue

Why is VATS (video-assisted thoracic surgery) performed? 

Your doctor may recommend VATS (video-assisted thoracic surgery) to treat a variety of chest and lung problems. Your doctor may only consider VATS for you if other treatment options that involve less risk of complications have been ineffective. Ask your doctor about all of your diagnostic and treatment options and consider getting a second opinion.

Your doctor may recommend VATS to diagnose or treat: 

  • Chronic conditions related to the sympathetic nervous system, including hyperhidrosis, Raynaud’s syndrome, and Buerger’s disease
  • Chest infections, including certain types of pneumonia
  • Empyema, a collection of pus in the area between the lungs and chest wall (pleural space)
  • Esophageal diseases, including GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease) and problems with the esophageal muscles (achalasia)
  • Pleural effusion, a buildup of excess fluid in the air spaces and area between the lungs and chest wall (pleural space)
  • Pneumothorax, a collection of air or gas in the area between the lungs and chest wall (pleural space) that causes the lung to collapse
  • Trauma, including diaphragm injuries, airway injury, and foreign bodies
  • Tumors, including cancerous and noncancerous tumors of the lungs, esophagus, thymus, and chest cavity

Who performs VATS (video-assisted thoracic surgery)?

Thoracic surgeons perform VATS (video-assisted thoracic surgery). Thoracic surgeons specialize in the surgical treatment of diseases of the chest, including the blood vessels, heart, lungs, and esophagus. Thoracic surgeons may also be known as cardiothoracic surgeons. 

How is VATS (video-assisted thoracic surgery) performed?

Your VATS (video-assisted thoracic surgery) will be performed in a hospital. VATS is a minimally invasive surgery. It involves inserting special instruments and a thoracoscope through at least two small incisions in your chest. 

The thoracoscope is a thin, lighted instrument with a small camera. The camera sends pictures of the inside of your chest to a screen. Your surgeon sees the inside of your chest or lungs on the screen while performing surgery.

VATS generally involves a faster recovery and less pain than open chest surgery (thoracotomy). This is because it causes less trauma to tissues and organs. Your doctor will make small incisions instead of a larger one used in open surgery. Surgical tools are threaded around muscles and tissues instead of cutting through or displacing them as in open surgery. 

In some cases, your surgeon may combine VATS with an open surgery. In addition, your surgeon may decide after beginning VATS that you require open surgery to complete your surgery safely and effectively.&