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Sydney Adventist Hospital
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Clinical Specialties

Having Lung Surgery

Common Reasons for Lung Surgery

Lung surgery is commonly referred to as thoracic surgery, coming from the Greek word "thorax" meaning chest. Surgery is often performed to get a closer look at and to treat a diagnosed lung problem. If a mass is found in the lung it can be removed or at least surgery can help to determine its cause. Surgery may also be performed for a collapsed lung or to remove fluid around the lung.

Conditions and Procedures

Thoracic surgery is performed for a variety of conditions including:

Recurrent pleural effusions

Recurring excessive fluid build-up around the lung

Lung cancer
Oesophageal cancer
Mediastinal tumours

Benign or cancerous growths that form in the area of the chest that separates the lungs. This area is called the mediastinum

Pleural tumours

Tumours in the pleural space which is the cavity between the lungs and chest wall

Lung metastases

Cancers that have developed elsewhere and have spread through the bloodstream or lymphatic system to the lungs

Some of the procedures used to treat the above conditions are:


Used to remove a membrane or a fibrous covering of an organ


The removal of one of more lobes of the lungs


The removal of an entire lung

Tissue biopsy

To remove a cell or tissue sample and test it for cancer and other diseases

Wedge resection

To remove part of a lobe or lung


To remove all or part of the oesophagus

How is the surgery performed?

Lung surgery can be performed using two techniques – thoracotomy (open surgery) or thoracoscopy (keyhole or minimally invasive surgery). In the past, surgery was almost always performed by thoracotomy, however with advances in technology, more procedures today at the San are performed using the minimally invasive surgical approach or thoracoscopy. Your surgeon will discuss the most appropriate technique for your problem and in some instances a combination of methods may be required.


A thoracotomy is the surgical opening of your chest cavity and whilst not used as extensively today by surgeons, it allows access to your throat, lungs, heart, aorta and diaphragm. Generally, a thoracotomy incision is made on the side of your chest, between the ribs. However, the exact location of a thoracotomy will depend on the disease, disorder or condition that your surgeon is treating.

Thoracoscopy or minimally invasive surgery

Thoracoscopy or minimally invasive surgery is often used to repair a collapsed lung, to drain fluid from around the lungs or to remove cancerous tumours.. During thoracoscopy, your surgeon can look into your chest and perform procedures through small incisions in the chest wall. During a video-assisted thoracoscopic surgery procedure, a tiny camera (thoracoscope) may be used. If a thoracoscopy cannot be continued, occasionally a thoracotomy (open procedure) may be necessary.

The benefits of minimally invasive surgery (including VATS – Video Assisted Thoracic Surgery and robotic surgery) can include:

  • Small incisions
  • Less pain
  • Lower risk of infection
  • Shorter hospital stay
  • A faster recovery time
  • Less scarring
  • Reduced blood loss


For both procedures, your surgeon will give you instructions on how to get ready for the procedure and feel free to ask any questions which may involve all or some of the following:

  • Have any necessary chest x-rays, scans or blood tests been undertaken?
  • If you smoke, stop smoking immediately.
  • Tell your doctor about any medications you’re taking (including aspirin), and ask if you should stop them.
  • There will be a period of fasting prior to surgery. Check with your doctor about when to stop eating and drinking.
  • Be sure to arrive at the hospital on time the day of your surgery.


Recovering from surgery can vary depending on the nature of the procedure and whilst newer minimally invasive techniques have reduced the discomfort and recovery time for the patient, surgery can still be confronting both emotionally and physically. Whilst individual recovery will vary, it is still common to experience some difficulty with bowel movement, pain and general discomfort. Your specialist will outline what you could expect under normal conditions following the type of surgery you have experienced.

Physiotherapy will be an integral part of your recovery from lung surgery.

You may recover initially in the Intensive Care Unit before being moved to the Coronary Care Unit or a hospital ward.

A successful recovery from lung surgery requires a commitment to rehabilitation and it can also reduce the incidence of subsequent cardiovascular events. Your surgeon will discuss the appropriate rehabilitation program for you following surgery to ensure the best possible recovery.

For more information on the extensive range of rehabilitation programs that the San offers, click here.

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Sydney Adventist Hospital Clinical Specialties and Services