Thoracic Surgery Procedures & Terms
Atelectasis: Atelectasis is a collapsed lung. It may have been caused by lung tissue
compressing or obstruction of the air passages (bronchi). Some causes include obesity,
fluid around or in the lung, foreign objects or tumors.
Bronchiectasis: A lung disease resulting from an infection or other condition which
damages the walls of the lung airways. These airways transport air in and out of the
Bronchoscopy: A procedure to view the airways of the lungs. The procedure is
performed by inserting a tube (with a tiny camera on the end) in the nose or mouth
through to the lungs. Also, lung secretions or tissue specimens for biopsy may be
Chest Tube Insertion: A surgical procedure of inserting a hollow flexible tube into the
chest. The tube is used to drain excess blood, fluid or air.
Chest Wall Biopsy: A surgical procedure which removes tissue (a biopsy) from an
area of the chest wall for diagnostic purposes.
Chest Wall Resection/Reconstruction: A surgical procedure to help the physical
stability and shape of the chest wall. This is usually needed when masses or tumors
invade the chest wall. Sometimes surgical removal of ribs and/or muscular areas near
the ribs may need to be removed. The type of surgical procedure is dependent upon
the location and depth of resection needed. Some type of reconstructive surgery may
be necessary after a chest wall resection.
Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD): A group of lung diseases that
cause limited airflow due to swelling of the airways. Emphysema and chronic bronchitis
are the most common forms of COPD. Smoking is a primary cause of COPD.
CT (Computed Tomography) Scan: CT scans are special x-rays which provide
cross-sectional images of the body. These images allow the radiologist and medical
doctor to look inside of the body and focus on a particular area of the chest and/or
Diabetes (Type 1): Bodies that produce little to no insulin may develop this type of
diabetes. The cells throughout the body need insulin (i.e., glucose) for energy. The
affect is that "blood" glucose then rises. This can also damage the pancreas. Insulin
injections are needed to control blood glucose.
Diabetes (Type 2): Although the body may (or may not) produce insulin, it does not
know how to use ir properly. The diagnosis for Type 2 diabetes is higher than Type 2.
Diffuse Interstitial Lung Diseases: Diseases caused by inflammation and scarring of
the lung tissues leading to restrictive air flow (shortness of breath).
Emphysema Surgery: Refer to "Lung Volume Reduction Surgery" below.
Empyema: Refer to Pulmonary Infections (Empyema) below.
Esophageal Cancer: The esophagus is the muscle that transports food from the mouth
to the stomach. Thus, esophageal cancer is a malignant tumor of the esophagus.
There are primarily two types of esophageal cancer (1) Squamous cancer - caused by
smoking and alcohol consumption, and (2) Adenocarcinoma cancer - caused by obesity,
poor diet and smoking.
Esophageal Cancer Surgery: When the cancer is isolated to the esophagus then
surgery can be performed to remove the tumor or cancerous cells. In some cases
chemotherapy and/or radiation may be necessary.
Esophageal Resection: A surgical procedure to repair congenital defects of the airway
(tracheoesophageal fistula) and/or the digestive tract (esophageal atresia).
Gastroesophageal Junction Cancer Surgery: A cancer where the stomach meets the
esophagus. Often there are no symptoms early in the disease which can delay
diagnosis. When symptoms do occur they manifest as less serious gastrointestinal
disorders such as bloating, gas and/or a sense of fullness. Some risk factors include: a
family history of gastric cancer, Helicobacter pylori, a history of chronic gastritis or
adenomatous gastric polyps and decreased gastric acid.
Hyperhidrosis (Excessive Perspiration): A condition wherein the body perspires
more than is needed to regulate the body temperature. Hyperhidrosis may be caused
by an overactive sympathetic nervous system.
Interstitial Lung Disease: Diffuse Interstitial Lung Disease
Lobectomy: Removal of a lobe within a lung when the lobe is cancerous or a lesion is
Lung Cancer: Lung cancer is very common and is a leading cause of death in men and
women in the United States. Cigarette smoking has been proven to cause most lung
Lung Radiofrequency Ablation (RFA): RFA is an alternative procedure that eliminates
lung tumors by using radiofrequency energy (e.g., heat). It is a much less invasive
procedure than open surgery.
Lung Resection: A surgical procedure to remove a portion of lung or the whole lung.
Surgery is often necessary when lungs are diseased or damaged by infections, tumors,
cancer, bronchiectasis, emphysema or a collapsed lung.
Lung Surgery: Lung surgery is a surgical procedure involving the lungs. Surgery may
be needed to biopsy lung cells (for diagnosis), to remove a portion of the lung (for
tumors or infections), or for lung transplants.
Lung Volume Reduction Surgery (LVRS): A surgical procedure to help people with
severely disabling emphysema. The surgery involves removing the most severely
diseased portions of the lung (20%-30%). LVRS allows the remaining tissue and
surrounding muscles to work more efficiently. LVRS can make breathing easier and
improve the patient's quality of life.
Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI): A radiology technique that uses magnetism,
radio waves, and a computer to produce images of body organs and structures.
Metastatic Lung Tumor: These are malignant tumors (cancerous) in the lungs that
developed elsewhere in the body and then spread to the lungs via the blood stream.
Common tumors that can spread to the lungs include breast, colon, prostate and
Mediastinal Tumors: These are tumors that develop in the cavity between the lungs.
This is the same cavity that contains the heart, large blood vessels, trachea and
Mediastinoscopy: A surgical procedure wherein the mediastinoscope instrument is
inserted through very small incisions. It provides a view of the chest cavity and is
useful for examining the airways or masses or tumors. It also allows surgeons to
remove lymph nodes and to test them for cancer or infection.
Myasthenia Gravisis: A condition wherein the body's immune system creates
antibodies to block the transmission of nerve signals to the muscles. Nerve signals, if
properly functioning, instruct the muscle to contract. This condition may be treated
with medicines to improve nerve signaling, strengthen muscles and/or reduce the
production of abnormal antibodies. Sometimes surgery to remove the thymus gland
Needle Biopsy: Inserting a biopsy needle through a small incision to obtain a piece of
the abnormal tissue or tumor for testing and diagnosis.
Pectus Excavatum Repair: A surgical procedure to correct a deformity of the chest
wall when the breastbone (sternum) and ribs are depressed.
Pericarditis: A condition wherein the membrane (thin sac) that surrounds the heart
becomes swollen and irritated. Pericarditis can cause chest pain and other symptoms
such as shortness of breath, low-grade fever, weakness, fatigue, sick feeling, dry
cough, and abdominal or leg swelling. The condition may be mild, acute and/or
chronic. Cases may be mild and improve over time or severe and require medications
Pleural Effusion: A medical condition wherein excess fluid accumulates between the
layers of the pleura. The pleura is a thin membrane residing outside of the lung and
the inside of the chest cavity.
Positron Emission Tomography (PET) Scan: An imaging diagnostic procedure that
allows a surgeon to view how the organs and tissues inside the body are functioning.
The difference between the PET scan and other types (e.g., CT, MRI) is that the PET
scan shows the metabolic changes in organs or tissues at the cellular level. A PET
scan is used to measure such functions as blood flow, oxygen use, and glucose
Pneumothorax: A collection of air or gas in the space around the lungs. It may be
caused by chest trauma (such as an automobile accident), excessive pressure or an
underlying disease. Treatment involves removing the air and allowing the lung to
Pulmonary Function Tests: A broad range of tests to assess lung functioning such as
how well lungs utilize air and how efficiently they transfer oxygen into the blood. These
tests are useful in diagnosing certain types of lung disorders and obstructive lung
diseases (e.g., asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, COPD).
Pulmonary Infections (Empyema): A collection of fluid or pus in the lung cavity
caused by an infection that spreads from the lung. The fluid can accumulate and put
excessive pressure on the lungs causing shortness of breath and even pain. This
condition may result from pneumonia, lung abscess, lung surgery and chest trauma or
Radiofrequency Ablation: RFA is an alternative procedure that eliminates lung tumors
by using radiofrequency energy (e.g., heat). It is a much less invasive procedure than
Restrictive Lung Diseases: A disease that restricts the amount of air a person can
inhale. Restrictive lung diseases may result from inflammation or scarring of lung
tissue. It can also be caused by abnormalities of the muscles or chest wall.
Sympathectomy: A surgical procedure to treat excessive sweating in the hands and
It involves cutting and sealing (cauterizing) a part of the sympathetic nerve that runs
parallel to the spine. This procedure interrupts the nerve signal which causes
Thoracentesis: A surgical procedure to remove excess fluid between the chest wall
and the lining of the outside of the lungs (pleura).
Thoracic Outlet Syndrome:
Thoracoscopic Sympathectomy: Refer to Sympathectomy above
Thorascopy: A surgical procedure to examine the chest area and lungs.
Thymectomy: The surgical procedure to remove the thymus gland. This procedure is
sometimes necessary for patients with myasthenia gravis and can result in remission
of the condition.
Tracheal Stenting: Tracheal stents are tubes of various sizes, structures (solid or
hollow), and material (absorbable or non-absorbable) that are used to stabilize a
trachea and prevent collapse.
Tuberculosis: A contagious bacterial infection that is spread through the air from
person to person. Developing the tuberculosis disease requires repeated exposure.
Some symptoms include a cough that will not go away, always feeling tired, weight
loss, fever and night sweats.
Video-Assisted Thoracoscopic Surgery (VATS): A surgery using advanced
technology (video computers) to perform operations that formerly required large
incisions. VATS allows the surgeon to accomplish the same goals but with smaller
incisions and less pain. VATS can be used to examine the chest cavity and perform
diagnostic procedures such as lung, diaphragmatic and pleural biopsies. Some
complex surgical procedures can also be performed such as lung resections.
Wedge Resection: A surgical procedure to remove a small section of lung tissue in the
shape of wedge.
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