You may need video-assisted thoracic surgery (VATS) to diagnose or treat lung cancer. Healthcare providers also use VATS to diagnose and treat thoracic conditions like esophageal cancer, lung infections and pleural effusion. Compared to an open-chest surgery (thoracotomy), VATS offers a faster, less painful recovery with fewer complications.
Video-assisted thoracic surgery (VATS) is a procedure to diagnose and treat certain conditions that affect your chest area. Healthcare providers insert a thin tube with a tiny video camera on the end (a thoracoscope) into a small incision in your chest.
This scope allows your provider to view inside your chest cavity. Your provider inserts surgical instruments into separate small incisions. They use images from the thoracoscope to guide and perform procedures. You may also hear the term video-assisted thoracoscopy.
VATS also helps providers diagnose and treat other thoracic conditions like:
A thoracic (chest) or cardiothoracic (heart and chest) surgeon performs video-assisted thoracoscopy. These medical doctors have additional training in performing surgery to diagnose and treat conditions in your chest area.
Thoracic surgeons use VATS to perform different procedures like:
You should follow your surgeon’s instructions on what to do before the procedure. They may need you to fast (not eat or drink) for a certain period of time before surgery. Your surgeon may ask you not to take certain medications, including vitamins and herbal supplements. You may also need to quit smoking.
Before surgery, you may get tests such as:
VATS takes place in a hospital or surgical center. You receive general anesthesia to sleep through the procedure. You’ll lie on your nonsurgical side during surgery.
Depending on the thoracic condition and VATS procedure, your surgeon:
Some surgeons use robotic technology to perform video-assisted thoracoscopy. Your surgeon views images from the thoracoscope to guide a robotic surgical device that removes tissue or the diseased organ.
VATS is a minimally invasive procedure. This means it takes place through small incisions. An open-chest surgery (thoracotomy) takes longer to perform. It requires a large incision to spread open the ribs and access the chest area. As a result, the recovery is often longer and more painful.
Benefits of VATS include:
VATS carries a risk of complications like:
Most people need to spend a few nights in the hospital after surgery. You should carefully follow your discharge instructions. Doing so will promote a healthy recovery and lower your risk of complications.
Your at-home recovery may include:
Your outlook depends on the specific thoracic disorder, your overall health and the success of treatments. Your thoracic surgeon can discuss your prognosis with you based on your unique diagnosis.
You should call your healthcare provider if you experience:
A note from Cleveland Clinic
You may need video-assisted thoracic surgery (VATS) to diagnose or treat lung cancer. Healthcare providers also use VATS to diagnose and treat other thoracic conditions that affect your heart, esophagus and chest area. VATS is a minimally invasive procedure with a faster recovery than with an open-chest surgery (thoracotomy). You should also have less pain and scarring. Your provider can discuss whether VATS is the right procedure for your unique health situation.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 11/09/2022.
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