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Breathe better.

Tobacco smoking is by far the largest risk factor for lung cancer, but even people who do not smoke

Thoracic Conditions We Treat

Dignity Health offers comprehensive services to help you to live healthier and breathe better. Click on the conditions below to learn more about how to find relief today.

Focused on safety. So you can focus on healing.

Our facilities follow CDC guidelines to help protect patients and staff. If you need to see a doctor, don’t delay getting the care you need.

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Our skilled surgeons are committed to quality with a focus on your safety, comfort, and long-term wellness. Use our online physician directory to find relief today.

Frequently Asked Questions

Our team of thoracic specialists at Dignity Health understand that you need the most advanced and compassionate care possible. You are unique and important to us. No matter how complex your condition may be, our experts will work closely to critically analyze your case and develop optimal treatment plans personalized just for you.

Our minimally invasive surgical procedures will minimize your risks and optimize your clinical outcomes. Dignity Health has acquired advanced imaging technologies to see what has been previously unseen in this field. We have also invested in new radiation therapies to target tumors with ever greater precision.

Our department’s programs and services are designed to treat the whole person and provide support for you and your loved ones in challenging times. It is also very important to us that kindness is incorporated as part of the continuum of care.

Your thoracic cancer care team will guide you on how to best prepare for surgery. If you are a smoker, you will be asked to quit before surgery, as quitting results in a better recovery and reduces the likelihood of complications before or after surgery.

Your care team will also address concerns such as the medications you take, allergies you have, whether you suffer from sleep apnea, and whether you drink alcohol or take recreational drugs.

In the month before your procedure, you will most likely be asked to undergo presurgical testing. You may also be encouraged to perform breathing and coughing exercises, as well as aerobic exercises, to strengthen respiratory function and get your body in its best condition for recovery.

In the days before your surgery, you may be advised to start taking some medications and stop taking others.

There are different ways that thoracic surgery can be performed. Your doctor will discuss the details of how your surgery will be performed and what type of incision you will have. During your surgery, you may undergo any one of the following incisions:

  • thoracotomy—a large incision on one side of your chest
  • median sternotomy—a large incision at the center of your chest
  • video-assisted thoracic surgery (VATS)—one or several small incisions on your side, back, or both

VATS is a minimally invasive procedure. Your doctor will use long, thin instruments with a video camera and surgical tools at the tip. Your doctor may perform robotically assisted VATS, which is using a robot to control the video camera and surgical tools. Robotically assisted VATS offers surgeons a degree of precision, control, and dexterity that traditional techniques can’t match.

When you wake up after your surgery, you may have a urinary catheter in your bladder to monitor the amount of urine you’re producing. You may also have one or more chest tubes inserted between your ribs that drains blood, fluid, and air from your chest cavity after surgery.

Your care team will explain the best way for you to recover, and may offer several recommendations. For example, going for a walk every couple of hours will help to prevent blood clots in your legs and lower your risk of developing pneumonia. Make sure you have help while you are walking as you will have tubes and an IV line connected to you.

You might also be encouraged to use your incentive spirometer, a device you breathe into and draw breath from in order to help your lungs grow stronger and prevent pneumonia. While awake, you may be advised to do breathing and coughing exercises every one to two hours.


The duration of your hospital stay depends on many things, such as the type of surgery you had and how you are recovering. You will stay in the hospital until your doctor feels you are ready to go home. Many people go home the same day the chest tube is removed, which is done once your lung is not leaking air and drainage has sufficiently decreased.

Pain Management

The duration and amount of discomfort after surgery varies. Some people report soreness around their incision for six months or longer, which doesn’t necessarily mean something is wrong. Follow the guidelines for pain medications provided by your doctor.


Your usual bowel pattern will change after surgery. Talk with your nurse about how to manage constipation. Typical recommendations include drinking plenty of water and avoiding drinks with caffeine, which pulls fluid out of the body. A stool softener may also provide relief.


Your care team will recommend that you eat a balanced diet high in protein, which is great for healing after surgery. Your diet should include a healthy protein source at each meal, as well as fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.

Physical Activity

It is important for you to resume your activities after surgery. Spread them out over the course of the day. Walking and stair climbing are excellent forms of exercise. Light household tasks are encouraged. Using the arm and shoulder on the side of your surgery in your activities will also help restore full strength.

Your first appointment after surgery will likely be one to three weeks after you leave the hospital. Your nurse will give you instructions on how to make this appointment. During this appointment, your doctor will discuss pathology results with you in detail. You may also have appointments with other doctors after your surgery.

During recovery from thoracic surgery, you may need assistance from family and friends in a variety of ways.

Household Activities — immediately after surgery, you may not be able to leave your home to shop for food. Also, everyday physical tasks may seem too demanding at first. Family and friends can help by buying and preparing healthy foods for you. They can also keep your house clean, which can prevent post-surgery infections. 

Driving — you may be restricted from driving after surgery if you are taking narcotic pain medication, or until you have regained full movement of your arm and shoulder on the side where you were operated on. Family and friends may need to drive you to follow-up appointments or other destinations.

Walking and Exercise — resuming activities are part of your recovery. Family and friends can help you regain momentum by giving you the space to do a few things by yourself. They can also help by offering to do things with you, such as going for a walk or doing arm and shoulder exercises with you.