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Thoracoscopy is the insertion of an endoscope, a narrow diameter tube with a viewing mirror or camera attachment, through a very small incision (cut) in the chest wall.

Thoracoscopy makes it possible for a physician to examine the lungs or other structures in the chest cavity, without making a large incision. It is an alternative to thoracotomy (opening the chest cavity with a large incision). Many surgical procedures, especially taking tissue samples (biopsies), can also be accomplished with thoracoscopy.

Thoracoscopy is most commonly performed in a hospital, and general anesthesia is used. Some of the procedures are moving toward outpatient services and local anesthesia. More specific names are sometimes applied to the procedure, depending on what the target site of the effort is. For example, if a physician intends to examine the lungs, the procedure is often called pleuroscopy. The procedure takes two to four hours.

The surgeon makes two or three small incisions in the chest wall, often between the ribs. By making the incisions between the ribs, the surgeon minimizes damage to muscle and nerves and the ribs themselves. A tube is inserted in the trachea and connected to a ventilator, which is a mechanical device that assists the patient with inhaling and exhaling.

The most common reason for a thoracoscopy is to examine a lung that has a tumor or a metastatic growth of cancer. The lung to be examined is deflated to create a space between the chest wall and the lung. The patient breathes with the other lung with the assistance of the ventilator.

A specialized endoscope, or narrow diameter tube, with a video camera or mirrored attachment, is inserted through the chest wall. Instruments for taking necessary tissue samples are inserted through other small incisions. After tissue samples are taken, the lung is re-inflated. All incisions, except one, are closed. The remaining open incision is used to insert a drainage tube. The tissue samples are sent to a laboratory for evaluation.

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