About Thoracic Conditions

Thoracic medicine is a specialty concerned with investigation and treatment of diseases and injuries of the lungs, mediastinum (the central compartment of the thoracic cavity), esophagus, chest wall, diaphragm and the great vessels to the heart. Pulmonologists (specialists in respiratory health) and thoracic surgeons use surgery to treat:

  • Abnormalities of the great vessels
  • Cancer
  • Congenital and acquired lesions (including infections, trauma, tumors, and metabolic disorders)
  • Diseases involving the lungs, pleura, chest wall, mediastinum, esophagus and diaphragm
  • Diseases of the pericardium (the double-walled sac containing the heart and the roots of the great vessels)
  • Tumors of the mediastinum
  • Injuries to the airway and chest

Symptoms and Diagnosing

Signs of a potential thoracic condition include:

  • Chest discomfort or pain
  • A cough that doesn't go away or gets worse over time
  • Trouble breathing
  • Wheezing
  • Blood in mucus coughed up from the lungs
  • Hoarseness
  • Trouble swallowing
  • Loss of appetite

A variety of tests are used to identity and diagnose thoracic conditions, including:

  • Angiography
  • Blood tests
  • Biopsy
  • Cardiac catheterization
  • Electrocardiography
  • Endoscopy
  • Imaging and scans

Treatment and Surgical Options

Treatment for a thoracic condition depends on several factors including a patient’s overall health and the nature of your problem. Thoracic surgery is used to treat:

  • Emphysema
  • Esophageal cancer
  • Hyperhidrosis (excessive sweating in the hands, underarms, or feet)
  • Lung cancer
  • Mesothelioma
  • Diaphragmatic pacing (implantation of a small device that stimulates the diaphragm to move and expand the lungs, enabling some paralyzed individuals to breathe without a respirator)
  • Diaphragmatic plication for diaphragmatic paralysis (stabilization of the diaphragm to restore normal lung function)
  • Lung transplantation

Thoracic surgery can include open surgery, performed through one large incision, or minimally invasive surgery, performed through a few small incisions.

Open surgery is performed through a long chest incision and can involve spreading your ribs to reach your lung and chest cavity.

Minimally invasive surgery can be performed through video-assisted thoracic surgery (VATS) or da Vinci® robotic-assisted surgery.

  • Thoracoscopy uses a tiny camera and surgical instruments inserted through small incisions. The camera sends images to a video screen to guide the surgeons as they operate.
  • Robotic-assisted da Vinci Surgery features a magnified 3D HD vision system and special instruments that bend and rotate far greater than the human hand. These features enable surgeons to operate with enhanced vision, precision and control, in surgeries like lobectomies, where part of the lung lobe is removed.

Benefits of Robotic Surgery

Robotic surgery is changing the surgical experience of patients. Surgeons use the da Vinci Surgical System to perform robot-assisted thoracic surgery, including lobectomy and thoracoscopy.

Benefits include:

  • Faster recovery time
  • Lower risk of infection
  • Less inflammation
  • Less pain
  • Less scarring
  • Reduced blood loss
  • Reduced number of days with a chest tube in place
  • Shorter hospital stay


Access support and education resources through American Lung Association, American Thoracic Society and Lungcancer.org. Ask your doctor or medical team for additional educational and support resources in your area.