VATS stands for video-assisted thorascopic surgery. This minimally invasive alternative to open chest surgery greatly reduces patient’s pain, recovery time and risk for infection. When using VATS, the physician makes tiny incisions in the patient’s chest and inserts a thorascope (a fiber-optic camera) as well as surgical instruments. As the physician turns the thorascope, its views are displayed on a video monitor to guide surgery. The surgeon has no need to stress or cut ribs, because all movements are performed at the tip of the instrument, at the point of contact with the cancerous tissue.

How to Prepare

It is important to follow any physician instructions to prepare for surgery. These instructions generally include:

  • Refraining from eating or drinking anything after midnight on the night before
  • Bringing all medications to the hospital
  • Arriving one hour prior to surgery time

The patient may have a pre-admission appointment one to two weeks beforehand, in which they will have routine blood testing, any heart imaging, such as an electrocardiogram, and consultation with the anesthesiologist.

If possible, patients are encouraged to do some mild physical activity such as walking, and eat a balanced diet, leading up to their scheduled surgery. In the week before, they should:

  • Limit alcohol consumption to one to two glasses per day.
  • Stop using tobacco.
  • Make a list of all medications taken and bring it with them. Include prescription and over-the-counter medications, herbs, supplements, aspirin, and corticosteroids.

What to Expect

On the day before the procedure, the patient should receive a call from the hospital. They will be given information about the day of the procedure, including where to go and when to arrive. Patients should leave any jewelry, credit cards, or other valuables at home, and wear comfortable clothes.

When the patient arrives, he or she will be taken to a pre-surgery area to measure their temperature, blood pressure, pulse, and listen to their heart and lungs. An intravenous (IV) line will be placed in their arm, so that medications and fluids may be administered before, during, and after the procedure.

Surgery may take several hours. Family members may wait in the Family Waiting Room.


After surgery, patients are taken to the Post Anesthesia Unit and monitored for any changes in blood pressure, heart rate and breathing. An IV line will remain in their arm to keep them hydrated and administer pain medication, if necessary. If a breathing tube was inserted during surgery to control breathing, it may remain in place for a brief time. The patient will likely have one or two tubes placed during surgery to drain fluids for several days.

Before the patient is discharged, the physician or nurse will instruct how to care for their incision. Gradually, over the course of a few weeks, patients will regain their strength and be able to return to work and participate in physical activity. Patients should always take their medicine exactly as prescribed and call their doctor if they have questions or notice any of the following:

  • Bleeding
  • Infection
  • High temperature
  • Allergic reaction, such as redness, swelling, trouble breathing
  • Pain