Capital & Coast DHB Cardiothoracic Service
A thoracotomy is a surgical incision made in order to access the inside of the chest. The vast majority of thoracotomies performed for lung operations are "posterolateral" thoracotomies, meaning the incision runs down the back and to the side, roughly below the patient's shoulder blade. The lung is accessed in this way for lobectomies, pneumonectomies, wedge resections and decortications.
Thoracotomies are potentially painful so the surgeons, anaesthetists and nurses will discuss with you how to manage this in the post-operative period using a combination of epidurals, PCAs and tablet medications.
Operations requiring a thoracotomy almost always require chest drainage afterwards as well.
If a large incision is not needed then a "minithoracotomy" may be used instead.