Answers to Common Cardiothoracic Surgery Questions

Premier Health doctors answer frequently asked questions about cardiothoracic surgery.

What is cardiothoracic surgery?

Premier Health’s Dr. Jose Rodriguez defines cardiothoracic surgery. Click play to watch the video or read the transcript.

 

Cardiothoracic surgery is a type of specialty surgery that involves procedures on the organs in the chest cavity (thorax)—heart, lungs, esophagus. According to the Society of Thoracic SurgeonsOff Site Icon (STS), the term “cardiothoracic surgeons” is an inclusive term that also includes:

  • General thoracic surgeons
  • Cardiovascular surgeons
  • Congenital heart surgeons

As Dr. Rodriguez points out, however, the terms “cardiac surgeon” and “thoracic surgeon” are used interchangeably.

Cardiothoracic surgery may be used to treat a number of health conditions, such as:

  • Coronary artery disease (artery blockages)
  • Lung cancer
  • Emphysema
  • Hiatal hernia
  • Swallowing disorders

Cardiothoracic surgery involves a variety of procedures, including open-chest operations, laparoscopic procedures and robotically-assisted surgeries.

Talk to your doctor to learn more about cardiothoracic surgery.

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How much education and training is involved with becoming a cardiothoracic surgeon?

Premier Health’s Dr. Jose Rodriguez discusses the education required to become a cardiothoracic surgeon. Click play to watch the video or read the transcript.

 

Cardiothoracic surgery is a specialty, and the extensive training required to become a cardiothoracic surgeon reflects the complexity of this field.

The Society of Thoracic SurgeonsOff Site Icon (STS) outlines in detail the steps to becoming a cardiothoracic surgeon. In order to gain the knowledge and experience to perform these procedures, you must complete:

  • A bachelor’s degree that includes prerequisite course work for medical school (biology, chemistry, organic chemistry, physics, calculus)—4 years
  • Medical school, which typically involves two years of classroom study and two years of clinical practice—4 years
  • A general surgery residency—5 years
  • A cardiothoracic surgery residency—2 to 3 years

Becoming a cardiothoracic surgeon requires at least 15 years of post-secondary education. Some residency programs may require a year of research, and an individual may also elect to pursue additional education and training through a cardiothoracic surgery fellowship. (Cardiothoracic fellowships are often for sub-specialties like congenital heart surgery.)

Some medical schools around the country are devising alternative pathways to train cardiothoracic surgeons that take fewer years to complete.

If you are interested in entering this field, talk to a cardiothoracic surgeon at Premier Health to learn more about the training requirements.

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What is the most common type of thoracic surgery?

Premier Health’s Dr. Jose Rodriguez talks about common thoracic surgery procedures. Click play to watch the video or read the transcript.

 

The most common types of thoracic surgeries are dictated by the most common conditions that afflict areas that fall under this specialty—heart, lungs, esophagus, and the bones protecting them.

According to the Society of Thoracic SurgeonsOff Site Icon (STS), general thoracic surgeons most commonly perform procedures to treat cancer. Dr. Rodriguez agrees, noting that lung cancer is the “number one killer in cancer deaths.”

STS notes that cardiothoracic surgeons that specialize in treatment of heart and vessel conditions most commonly perform surgeries to treat coronary artery disease, such as coronary artery bypass. Congenital heart surgeons operate mostly on babies and children with heart defects, like a hole between heart chambers.

Other cardiothoracic procedures include:

  • Lymph node biopsy (mediastinoscopy)
  • Heart valve repair or replacement
  • Heart transplant
  • Lung transplant

Cardiothoracic surgeries may be video-assisted (VATS), robotic-assisted, or they may require open access to the chest cavity.

For more information about cardiothoracic surgery procedures, talk with your doctor.

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What is minimally invasive surgery?

Premier Health’s Dr. Jose Rodriguez defines minimally invasive cardiothoracic surgery. Click play to watch the video or read the transcript.

 

Cardiothoracic surgery does include procedures that involve opening the chest and separating the ribs. Heart and lung transplants are two examples of invasive procedures. However, advances in technology and practice allow cardiothoracic surgeons to treat more conditions without opening the chest cavity.

A number of diagnostic procedures involve the use of scopes to see and collect tissue samples from the area of concern. These procedures include:

  • Mediastinoscopy
  • Bronchoscopy
  • Esophagoscapy
  • Video-assisted thoracic surgery (VATS)

Inserting scopes requires only a small incision through which the scope is threaded into the destination. Some treatments are, by nature, minimally invasive, such as draining air or fluid from the chest cavity. These treatments can be done with needles or by placing catheters in the chest. Other treatments that years ago required open access to the chest cavity may now be done with minimal invasion, such as treatment for aneurysms of large vessels in the chest.

Minimally invasive surgery significantly reduces recovery time. Patients may stay as little as one day in the hospital following surgery.

To learn more about minimally invasive cardiothoracic surgery, talk to one of the specialists at Premier Health.

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What is robotically-assisted thoracic surgery?

Premier Health’s Dr. Jose Rodriguez explains robotically-assisted thoracic surgery. Click play to watch the video or read the transcript.

 

Until recently, most thoracic surgeries required opening the chest cavity, and many times spreading the ribs. Such invasive surgeries require extensive recovery time and significant post-operative pain and discomfort for the patient. Advances in technology now allow surgeons to see inside the chest cavity and perform procedures through small incisions because smaller robotic arms manipulate the patient rather than the surgeons’ hands.

As Dr. Rodriguez explains, in robotically-assisted thoracic surgery, the surgeon sits behind a console that controls a machine (robot) that is bedside to the patient. The daVinci®Off Site Icon robotic system has an imaging system that provides the surgeon with magnified 3D views. The robotic arms also have more rotation and maneuverability than surgeons’ wrists and hands. As a result, robotically-assisted thoracic surgery allows the surgeon better visibility and a higher degree of precision during the procedure without opening the chest.

To learn more about robotically-assisted thoracic surgery, talk to your thoracic surgeon.

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What advantages do robotics provide to surgeons?

Premier Health’s Dr. Jose Rodriguez discusses the advantages of robotically-assisted thoracic surgery. Click play to watch the video or read the transcript.

 

Cardiothoracic surgeons who use the daVinci®Off Site Icon system have some distinct advantages over surgeons who perform open-chest procedures, such as:

  • Magnification
    Surgeons can magnify the image being sent from inside the chest to the console monitors up to 10 times.
  • Internal 3D views
    Surgeons can achieve the same view they would have from an open-chest procedure, including depth perception, without opening the chest cavity. Newer generation equipment also provides some tactile sensation.
  • Increased instrument maneuverability
    Surgeons have a greater range of motion with their instruments because the robotic arms bend and rotate to a greater degree than the human wrist.

Surgeons who perform robotically-assisted thoracic surgery have better visibility and precision. These advantages further minimize the invasiveness of the procedure, allowing for greater patient comfort and shorter recovery times.

Talk to your surgeon for more information about the advantages of robotically-assisted thoracic procedures.

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Who does the surgery, the robot or the surgeon?

Premier Health’s Dr. Jose Rodriguez provides clarification about robotically-assisted thoracic surgery. Click play to watch the video or read the transcript.

 

Because many robots are automated to complete tasks, some people may be under the impression that during robotically-assisted thoracic surgery the robot is completing the procedure in place of the surgeon. That is a misconception.

As the website for daVinci®Off Site Icon, the robotic system used by Premier Health cardiothoracic surgeons, states: “Your surgeon is 100% in control of the da Vinci System.” While the surgeon sits behind the console, the movements of his or her hands are translated into the movements of the robotic arms inside the patient.

Talk to your surgeon to learn more about robotically-assisted thoracic surgery.

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What’s next in the field of robotic surgery?

Premier Health’s Dr. Jose Rodriguez talks about the future of robotically-assisted thoracic surgery. Click play to watch the video or read the transcript.

 

Technology is always evolving, and new advances are sure to increase the number of cardiothoracic procedures that may be performed through robotically-assisted surgery and improve patient prognosis.

As Dr. Rodriguez says, “The future of robotic surgery is very bright.” He predicts that manufacturers will further decrease the size of instruments, enhance instrument precision as well as continue to improve the visualization capability of the robots. Such advances may enable a greater range of surgeries on the microscopic level, according to a 2014 article in Popular ScienceOff Site Icon.

However, simply improving upon robots as they currently exist may only be the beginning. According to a 2014 Medical News TodayOff Site Icon in a new window with off site icon and 3rd party content disclaimer] article, scientists are working on developing “squishy robots”—robots that may change between a soft state that allows them to squeeze in between organs without damaging tissues and a hard state that performs the actual surgical function.

Talk to your cardiothoracic surgeon to learn more about advances in the field of robotically-assisted surgery.

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What patient advantages does robotic surgery offer?

Premier Health’s Dr. Jose Rodriguez discusses patient advantages of robotically-assisted thoracic surgery. Click play to watch the video or read the transcript.

 

Cardiothoracic surgeries used to require open access to the chest cavity; access was achieved by cutting the sternum (breastbone) and separating the ribs. Robotically-assisted thoracic surgery, on the other hand, is minimally invasive surgery. The chest cavity is accessed through only a few small incisions.

Minimally invasive surgery carries a number of benefits to the patient, including:

  • Reduced pain and discomfort
  • Reduced risk of infection
  • Reduced blood loss/fewer blood transfusions
  • Minimal scarring

Patients who undergo minimally invasive surgery may recover faster, stay in the hospital less time and are able to return to normal activities more quickly. As Dr. Rodriguez points out, shorter hospitalization stays and rehabilitation windows also reduce the cost of healthcare.

To learn more about the advantages of minimally invasive/robotically-assisted cardiothoracic surgery (vs. conventional open chest surgery), talk to your doctor.

How is Premier Health leading with care in robotic surgery?

Premier Health’s Dr. Jose Rodriguez talks about how Premier Health is leading the way in robotically-assisted thoracic surgery. Click play to watch the video or read the transcript.

 

Premier Health offers advanced care in cardiothoracic surgery. Miami Valley Hospital recently acquired new surgical robot systems to replace the older models, but keeping up with evolving technology is just the beginning.

The cardiothoracic surgeons at Miami Valley Hospital are helping surgeons from other states and regions learn more about robotically-assisted thoracic surgery. Miami Valley Hospital allows visiting surgeons to observe robotically-assisted procedures, demonstrating how this advanced equipment works. It is the hope of Premier Health that by sharing our knowledge and expertise we can help other doctors and healthcare systems around the country bring the very best care to their patients.

Talk to your cardiothoracic surgeon to learn more about how Premier Health is leading the way.

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To schedule an appointment with a Cardiologist, call (866) 608-FIND(866) 608-FIND or complete the form below to receive a call from our scheduling department to make an appointment.

 

Source: Jose Rodriguez, MD, FACS, Cardiothoracic Surgery Associates

Content Updated: July 17, 2018

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