Thoracic Surgery is the medical specialty that refers to any surgery performed in the chest cavity and affects organs such as the heart, lung, mediastinum (the area in the middle of the chest that includes the lymph nodes, big vessels and organs such as the thymus gland), pleura (a thin film covering the lung and the chest wall), ribs and the surrounding muscles and also the diaphragm, which is a strong muscle that enables us to breathe and separates the chest from the abdomen.
Every medical condition affecting the aforementioned organs that require surgical intervention is part of Thoracic Surgery but due to extreme sub-specialization and the development of new techniques it is impossible for Cardio-Thoracic surgeons to have an efficient background and adequate technical skills to deal with all. Subsequently in the majority of medically advanced developed countries, Thoracic Surgery has separated from Cardiac Surgery and represents an entirely independent medical specialty.
A Thoracic Surgeon today is dealing with congenital, benign or malignant conditions of the chest. The role can be diagnostic (performing biopsies from the above organs), curative (surgical treatment from established medical problems) or palliative (helping to improve the life expectancy and the quality of life of end stage patients).
The number of conditions a Thoracic Surgeon can treat is countless. In order to achieve the standard level of experience needed they have to spend vast amounts of time reading books and papers. They also have to spend time in thoracic theatres where they have to practice and learn how to operate with safety and efficiency and at the same time adopting anything new that is beneficial to the patients.
Listing down what a Thoracic Surgeon can do is pointless and is not the subject of this article.
It is useful to point out that the most common and important situation that requires Thoracic treatment is Cancer of the Lung (Primary or Secondary), which is top of the list of deaths from Cancer in the World!
Mediastinal tumours (Teratoma, Thymoma, and Lymphoma etc.), tumours of the pleura (Mesothelioma), of the ribs (Sarcoma) and also benign conditions such as Pneumothorax, Empyema, Sternal malformations and Diaphragmatic hernias represent more than 95% of the everyday practice of a Thoracic Surgeon.
The need to deliver a better quality of treatment pushed Thoracic Surgeons to sub-specialize and develop new skills and techniques that have entirely changed how Thoracic Surgery is performed today compared to 10 - 15 years ago.
The use of a camera and the implementation of minimally invasive and keyhole surgery for the majority of patients including the most complex cases is standard practice for most Thoracic Surgeons today.
Robotic Surgery is becoming very popular amongst Thoracic Surgeons suggesting what the future may bring when the cost of these procedures become more affordable.
A Thoracic Surgeon is never alone in this constant fight to defeat Cancer and other serious medical conditions. They are part of a chain, which consist of other Medical Specialties including Chest Physicians, Oncologists, General Practitioners, Radiologists and Pathologists who work together for the common cause which is the cure of every disease.
The result of this harmonic collaboration is that today Lung Cancer can be treated radically and become curative if it is detected early and treated properly.