A thoracoscopy is a procedure providers use to see and diagnose issues in your lungs and other organs in your chest. They can use a thoracoscope to take samples of lung tissue or lymph nodes. As an alternative to more invasive surgery, your provider can use a thoracoscopy to treat multiple issues without making large incisions.
A thoracoscopy is a common procedure to look at the surface of your lungs and the area around your lungs (pleural space). Your healthcare provider uses a thoracoscope (a thin camera with a light) to see these areas and take samples of lung tissue or lymph nodes. They can see your diaphragm, esophagus, chest wall and other areas as well.
Providers use thoracoscopy as part of video-assisted thoracoscopic surgery (VATS), a minimally invasive chest surgery. They can project images to a video monitor in the operating room while they work.
When your provider uses a thoracoscopy to look at your lungs and the areas around them, that’s a medical procedure. They may call it a pleuroscopy to be clear about what they plan to do.
Thoracoscopy is diagnostic when it’s used to look in your chest or take samples (biopsies) of tissue.
Therapeutic thoracoscopy is used as part of minimally invasive surgery to treat a specific problem.
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Your healthcare provider can use a thoracoscopy or video-assisted thoracoscopy surgery when they need to:
A thoracoscopy procedure is less invasive than a thoracotomy, which involves a bigger incision.
A thoracoscopy has these advantages:
You may need a thoracotomy if your provider can’t do what they need to do safely with a thoracoscopy.
Your pulmonologist can do a thoracoscopy, which is also called a pleuroscopy. However, a thoracic surgeon has to do video-assisted thoracoscopy surgery.
A few days before your thoracoscopy, you may need to stop taking any medicine that can make you bleed more easily. Also, your provider may tell you not to eat or drink on the day of your thoracoscopy procedure.
Thoracoscopy surgery can take a half-hour to several hours. Your provider will need more time if they need to do something more involved than taking samples.
If you’re having video-assisted thoracoscopy surgery, your provider will give you general anesthesia. Thoracoscopy is rarely performed with sedation alone.
Your surgeon will follow these thoracoscopy procedure steps:
It’ll take time to feel alert after getting sedation or anesthesia. Your throat and mouth may be numb, too, and you can’t eat or drink while they feel that way. Because of the breathing tube, you may be hoarse or have a sore throat the day after your thoracoscopy procedure. Also, you may have some pain where your provider made incisions.
You can expect to have a tube in your chest for a day or two after your thoracoscopy if your provider took biopsies or drained fluid.
You’ll get a chest X-ray to make sure you’re not having any lung issues.
Most people are hospitalized after thoracoscopic surgeries while drainage tubes are in your chest. After some thoracoscopy procedures, it is safe to go home after a few hours of recovery. You will need a friend or relative to drive you home.
Because you’re receiving anesthesia during your thoracoscopy, you won’t feel any pain during the procedure. Afterward, you can take medicine for pain at your incisions.
You can start doing normal activities again within two weeks of your thoracoscopy. Full recovery usually takes four to six weeks.
The estimated mortality rate for a medical thoracoscopy is 0.3%. The mortality rate for video-assisted thoracoscopy is slightly higher. Complication rates for both types range from 2% to 11%. This includes minor and major complications.
Thoracoscopy complications may include:
Your provider can tell you if they were able to fix the issue you had. Also, with lab results, they can tell you if a spot is cancerous or harmless. If you have cancer, they can tell you where it falls on the cancer staging system.
It may take a few days for a hospital lab to examine your tissue samples.
Contact your healthcare provider if you get home after your procedure and have:
A note from Cleveland Clinic
With a few small incisions, your provider can use a thoracoscopy to diagnose or treat problems inside your chest. Ask questions if you don’t have a clear understanding of the reason for your thoracoscopy. You may feel more at ease about your procedure if you know what to expect. Follow your provider’s instructions when preparing for your thoracoscopy and when recovering afterward.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 07/06/2022.
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