Robot-Assisted Thoracic Procedures
by Krisha McCoy, MS
Thoracic surgery is done on the chest, but it does not involve surgery on the heart. With robot-assisted thoracic procedures, the doctor guides small robotic arms through keyhole incisions.
Reasons for Procedure
Robot-assisted thoracic procedures are considered for surgeries that:
Some thoracic surgeries that have been successfully performed using robotic techniques include:
Compared to more traditional procedures, robotic-assisted surgery may result in:
Problems from the procedure are rare, but all procedures have some risk. Your doctor will review potential problems, like:
Some factors that may increase the risk of complications include:
Be sure to discuss these risks with your doctor before the procedure.
What to Expect
Prior to Procedure
Depending on the reason for your surgery, your doctor may do the following:
Leading up to the procedure:
General anesthesia will be used. It will block any pain and keep you asleep through the surgery.
Description of the Procedure
You will be connected to a ventilator. This is a machine that moves air in and out of your lungs. Next, several keyhole openings will be cut in the chest wall between the ribs. One or more chest tubes may be placed into the side of the chest. These tubes will be used to drain fluid and monitor air leakage. A needle may be used to inject carbon dioxide gas into the chest cavity. The gas will make it easier for internal structures to be viewed.
A small camera, called an endoscope, will be passed through one of the incisions. The camera will light, magnify, and project the structures onto a video screen. The camera will be attached to one of the robotic arms. The other arms will hold instruments for grasping, cutting, dissecting, and stitching. These may include:
While sitting at a console near the operating table, the doctor will use lenses to look at magnified 3D images of the inside of the body. Another doctor will stay by the table to adjust the camera and tools. The robotic arms and tools will be guided by movements of the surgeon to remove organs and tissue. After the tools are removed, the doctor will use stitches or staples to close the surgical area.
Immediately After Procedure
If you are doing well, the breathing tube will be removed. Later, the chest tubes will be removed.
How Long Will It Take?
About 1-4 hours, depending on the procedure
How Much Will It Hurt?
Anesthesia will prevent pain during surgery. Pain and discomfort after the procedure can be managed with medications. You may also feel discomfort from the gas used during the procedure. This can last up to 3 days.
Average Hospital Stay
This procedure is done in a hospital setting. The usual length of stay is a few days. Your doctor may choose to keep you longer if you have any problems.
At the Hospital
While you are recovering at the hospital, you may receive the following care:
To help with your recovery at home:
Depending on the procedure, you should recover within a few weeks.
Call Your Doctor
Call your doctor if any of these occur:
If you think you have an emergency, call for emergency medical services right away.
American Thoracic Society
The Society of Thoracic Surgeons
Rea F, Marulli G, Bortolotti L. Robotic video-assisted thoracoscopic thymectomy. Multimed Man Cardiothorac Surg. 2005;(324).
Robotic surgery. The Robotic Surgery Center at NYU Langone Medical Center website. Available at:
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Sympathectomy. New York Presbyterian Hospital website. Available at:
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Accessed February 19, 2016.
Last reviewed March 2018 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Donald W. Buck II, MD
Last Updated: 9/30/2013
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