We are independent & ad-supported. We may earn a commission for purchases made through our links.
Advertiser Disclosure
Our website is an independent, advertising-supported platform. We provide our content free of charge to our readers, and to keep it that way, we rely on revenue generated through advertisements and affiliate partnerships. This means that when you click on certain links on our site and make a purchase, we may earn a commission. Learn more.
How We Make Money
We sustain our operations through affiliate commissions and advertising. If you click on an affiliate link and make a purchase, we may receive a commission from the merchant at no additional cost to you. We also display advertisements on our website, which help generate revenue to support our work and keep our content free for readers. Our editorial team operates independently of our advertising and affiliate partnerships to ensure that our content remains unbiased and focused on providing you with the best information and recommendations based on thorough research and honest evaluations. To remain transparent, we’ve provided a list of our current affiliate partners here.

What is a Thoracotomy?

Tricia Christensen
By
Updated Feb 24, 2024
Our promise to you
WiseGeek is dedicated to creating trustworthy, high-quality content that always prioritizes transparency, integrity, and inclusivity above all else. Our ensure that our content creation and review process includes rigorous fact-checking, evidence-based, and continual updates to ensure accuracy and reliability.

Our Promise to you

Founded in 2002, our company has been a trusted resource for readers seeking informative and engaging content. Our dedication to quality remains unwavering—and will never change. We follow a strict editorial policy, ensuring that our content is authored by highly qualified professionals and edited by subject matter experts. This guarantees that everything we publish is objective, accurate, and trustworthy.

Over the years, we've refined our approach to cover a wide range of topics, providing readers with reliable and practical advice to enhance their knowledge and skills. That's why millions of readers turn to us each year. Join us in celebrating the joy of learning, guided by standards you can trust.

Editorial Standards

At WiseGeek, we are committed to creating content that you can trust. Our editorial process is designed to ensure that every piece of content we publish is accurate, reliable, and informative.

Our team of experienced writers and editors follows a strict set of guidelines to ensure the highest quality content. We conduct thorough research, fact-check all information, and rely on credible sources to back up our claims. Our content is reviewed by subject-matter experts to ensure accuracy and clarity.

We believe in transparency and maintain editorial independence from our advertisers. Our team does not receive direct compensation from advertisers, allowing us to create unbiased content that prioritizes your interests.

Thoracotomy is the means by which surgeons gain access to the lungs, heart, and other organs located in the chest. It is essentially cutting into wall of the chest, and there are many different ways a thoracotomy may be performed. It’s a significant procedure on its own, which hazards medical risks. These are usually weighed against necessity for the incision, to do things like remove a lung or perform open-heart surgery.

One of the most common types of thoracotomy for heart surgery is the median sternotomy. This means not only opening up the chest for access to the heart but also cutting through bone, the sternum, to provide this access. The sternum is the hard bone located right at the center of the chest. Once surgery is performed, the sternum must be wired so that it will grow back together and heal appropriately. This type of thoracotomy is associated with a significant amount of pain during recovery.

For access to the lungs, median sternotomy is not always the best choice. Instead surgeons may choose to access the chest by making an incision near the armpit or under the shoulder blade. Other areas of access are possible, and some methods are called minimally invasive because they involve much smaller cuts or to get to the organs under the chest wall intercostally, or between two of the ribs. Smaller cuts may minimize scarring and are generally associated with less pain during recovery.

No matter what method is used, this is major surgery, and it’s not something that people can immediately walk away from. Most people can expect to spend several days in the hospital recovering from the effects of a thoracotomy, and perhaps longer to recover from whatever surgery was required after access to the chest was derived through incision. Patients who have these procedures run risks of bleeding due to the many blood vessels located in the chest wall, and after the chest wall is closed, they can usually expect to have chest drainage tubes for a couple of days, and some prescribed limitations in movement in the chest and arms for several weeks. Risks of this surgical procedure in any of its forms include collapsed lungs, fluid in the lungs, infection and risk from anesthesia required.

It used to be the case that large thoracotomies would be performed if doctors needed to visualize the lungs, take a lung biopsy or remove lung tumors. There are now some minimally invasive alternatives to this, though they may not be available everywhere. Video assisted thoracic surgery (VATS) allows for screening of the lungs and some tissue and tumor removal through a very small cut in the chest wall, that is easy to recover from as compared to the incisions required in a thoracotomy. VATS is not recommended in all cases and not all hospitals have the needed technology available to offer this as an alternative.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a WiseGeek contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.

Related Articles

Discussion Comments
Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a WiseGeek contributor, Tricia...
Learn more
WiseGeek, in your inbox

Our latest articles, guides, and more, delivered daily.

WiseGeek, in your inbox

Our latest articles, guides, and more, delivered daily.