Robotic-assisted thoracic surgery, also known as robotic thoracic surgery (RAS), is a minimally invasive procedure. It allows surgeons to perform many types of operations in the body’s chest area, which includes the lungs, heart and esophagus. RAS can help remove diseased lung tissue and other damaged surrounding lymph nodes.

If you or someone you love has been referred for thoracic surgery, knowing what to expect may help ease anxiety. Every patient is unique, so always ask your doctor if you have any questions.

What Is Robotic-Assisted Thoracic Surgery?

RAS allows a thoracic surgeon to perform procedures using several small incisions instead of making a massive cut typical of traditional surgery. RAS can be used to remove:

  • A small piece of the lung (wedge resection/biopsy)
  • A segment of a lung’s lobe (segmentectomy)
  • A whole lung lobe (lobectomy)

The RAS we offer at Hilton Head Regional Healthcare is done at Coastal Carolina Hospital in Hardeeville, SC using the da Vinci Xi robotic surgery system. This platform enables us to perform various complex surgical procedures and we’re proud that our thoracic surgeons are trained in and experienced with this technology. A minimally invasive procedure like RAS does not require large incisions and may provide a patient with the following benefits:

  • Less tissue trauma
  • Less pain
  • Fewer chances of scarring
  • Faster recovery
  • Shorter hospital stay

What Does a Thoracic Surgeon Do?

Thoracic surgeons specialize in performing procedures in the chest area, which can mean a lung, esophagus or heart operation. General thoracic surgeons can perform procedures to treat:

  • Lung cancer
  • Severe emphysema
  • Esophageal cancer
  • Gastroesophageal reflux disease
  • Hiatal hernias
  • Swallowing disorders such as achalasia
  • Infections in the chest cavity

What Happens Before Robotic Thoracic Surgery?

Patients undergo a series of health examinations, imaging tests and other medical assessments to confirm whether RAS may be a good treatment option for them. You will get information from your doctor about how to prepare. Be sure to tell your doctor about all medications and supplements you take. They may ask you to stop taking certain medications for a few days before surgery. You will also need to quit smoking and avoid it for a while so as not to affect your procedure or recovery.

Your doctor will also tell you to stop eating and drinking at the time on the night before or on the day of your surgery. Make sure to arrange for a family member or friend to drive you home and stay with you for the first few days of your hospital discharge.

On the day of your surgery, you will be sedated and completely asleep before your procedure. Your vital signs will be monitored throughout. Your anesthesiologist will place a special tube into your airway to collapse the lung your surgeon will operate on. This lung will be reinflated before you wake up after surgery.

Your surgeon will create small incisions on certain parts of your body where the robot’s arms will be docked. Each of the robotic hands carries a tiny camera and other surgical instruments. Your surgeon will sit at a console and control the robot in real time. Here’s a general process of a thoracic surgeon removing the lung tissue using RAS:

  1. A tiny camera is placed through one of the incisions on the body to provide a view of the chest cavity interior.
  2. Other instruments will be placed through the other incisions between the ribs.
  3. The surgeon controls the robotic instruments from a console where they can perform precise and controlled movements through small incisions.
  4. If needed, the anesthesiologist will inject an indocyanine green (ICG) into the lung to help the surgeon better see the lung anatomy.
  5. The instruments will be retrieved, and the incisions will be closed after your surgeon removes all that needs to be removed from your thoracic area.
  6. A chest tube will be inserted into one of the incisions to collect fluid and help re-inflate your lungs.

What To Expect After Robotic Thoracic Surgery?

Your stay in the hospital after surgery may depend on the type of RAS done on you and your overall health after the procedure. You may spend the night in an intensive care unit so your medical team can more closely monitor you. Robotic surgery allows most patients to go home sooner than people who have had traditional surgery. Still, a more complex procedure may require several nights in the hospital.

How Long Does Robotic Thoracic Surgery Take To Heal?

Your recovery time from RAS may depend on the type of operation you had. You may need to stay in the hospital for up to a week after your surgery. It may take a month or more to recover completely. Follow your healthcare team’s post-surgical instructions to help you recover. You may experience fatigue, a sore throat (from the breathing tube), shortness of breath and pain as your body heals. Your doctor may also recommend a pulmonary rehabilitation program where you can learn breathing and relaxation techniques to help you adjust post-surgery.

Advanced Thoracic Care With a Heart

When it comes to heart matters, you want someone who understands you. We aim to give each patient the highest quality cardiac care at Hilton Head Regional Healthcare. We are here for you with various cardiovascular services, including diagnostic tests, medications, robot-assisted procedures and rehabilitation. Our team of experienced health professionals and dedicated staff is ready to help develop a personalized treatment plan to manage and improve cardiovascular health.

Find a Thoracic Surgeon

Please call 833-383-3744 or find a doctor here near your location. If you or someone has signs of heart attack, stroke or cardiac arrest, please call 911 or go to the nearest emergency room. Please don't delay care.