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Robotic-Assisted Chest and Lung Surgery Helps Speed Recovery

By Leonid Emerel, MD

When thoracic surgery is recommended for a patient with lung cancer or another chest-related condition, they may be a candidate for robotic-assisted surgery, which enables the surgeon to perform intricate procedures with just a few tiny incisions.

Penn Medicine Princeton Medical Center’s Center for Minimally Invasive Surgery is equipped with sophisticated robotic surgery systems that enable surgeons to perform even the most complex procedures with a minimally invasive approach.

About Thoracic Surgery

Thoracic surgery — also known as chest surgery — is surgery that involves the organs of the chest as well as the esophagus, trachea, and chest wall.

While it is most often used to treat lung cancer, thoracic surgery is also used to treat a range of other chest-related diseases and conditions, including collapsed lungs, diaphragm abnormalities and injuries, and conditions affecting the lining of the heart.

In the past thoracic surgery, especially for lung cancer, involved large incisions and typically required cutting the chest muscles and moving the ribs to perform the operation. It also required a lengthy recovery period.

Now, minimally invasive surgical techniques, including robotic-assisted surgery, are enabling people to recover faster with fewer complications.

A Safe and Precise Procedure

In robotic-assisted surgery, the surgeon uses instruments and cameras inserted through small incisions in your body that are about the size of a fingernail. The surgeon sits at a console next to you and the robotic system imitates the natural movements of the surgeon’s hands.

The surgeon is always in control and uses extremely fine instruments to perform the procedure precisely and safely.

Overall, the use of surgical robotics results in less time in the hospital, quicker recovery, less pain during recovery, improved outcomes, and faster to return to normal activities.

Moreover, the fact that there is less post-operative pain means that patients can breathe better, which decreases their chances of developing pneumonia.

A three-to-five-day hospital stay is normally expected following robotic thoracic surgery, with full recovery from the procedure taking between three and four weeks in most patients.

Candidates for Robotic Surgery

In general, patients who qualify for robotic surgery are those who have not had prior chest surgeries and therefore do not have a buildup of scar tissue.

Patients who were previously diagnosed with significant heart or lung conditions are required to be cleared through tests such as electrocardiogram, echocardiogram, and ultrasound before being considered for a robotic procedure.

As with any surgery, there are risks that may be related to your age, existing medical
conditions, and the number of procedures that you undergo during a single operation.

Your physician will review your entire medical history and existing medical conditions to determine if robotic surgery is right for you.

Keep Your Lungs Healthy

According to a study published in the Journal of Thoracic Disease in 2022, approximately 530,000 general thoracic surgery cases are performed yearly in the United States, and an estimated 225,000 are for lung cancer alone.

Lung cancer is the second most common cancer in both men and women and is by far the leading cause of cancer death in the United States accounting for about one in five of all cancer deaths, according to the American Cancer Society.

You can reduce your risk for lung cancer by not smoking or if you do smoke, quitting, as smoking is the leading cause of the disease.

If you are concerned about your risk for lung cancer, talk to your doctor about low-dose CT screening. Based on the American Cancer Society screening guidelines, lung cancer screening is recommended for people who:

  • Are 50-80 years old and in fairly good health, and
  • Currently smoke or have quit in the past 15 years, and
  • Have at least a 20 pack-year smoking history. This is the number of packs of cigarettes
    per day multiplied by the number of years you smoked. For example, someone who smoked two packs a day for 10 years [2 x 10 = 20] has 20 pack-years of smoking, as does a person who smoked one pack a day for 20 years [1 x 20 = 20].

Low-dose CT screening is the most reliable way to detect lung cancer at its earliest, most
treatable stage.

If you have lung cancer or another chest condition that requires surgical treatment, talk with your doctor about robotic-assisted surgery. With less pain and fewer complications, you can recover faster.

To learn more about Penn Medicine Princeton Medical Center’s Center for Minimally Invasive Surgery or to find a physician affiliated with Penn Medicine Princeton Health, call 888-742-7496 or visit

Leonid Emerel, MD, specializes in thoracic surgery and is a member of the Medical Staff at Penn Medicine Princeton Health.

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