Surgeon performs region’s first VATS thymectomy

Posted on in Hospitals

A surgeon at The James Cook University Hospital has performed what is believed to be the region’s first minimally invasive surgery for removing tumours from the thymus gland.

Joel Dunning with Alison Blyth

The video-assisted technique enables small cancers to be removed using three small incisions in the side of the chest rather than having to cut through the patient’s breastbone.

Patients undergoing the VATS (video assisted thoracic surgery) thymectomy recover much faster and can often go home the next day.

Cardiothoracic consultant Joel Dunning said: “These small tumours, known as thymomas, can affect people of all ages. They are usually only picked up by luck during CT scans for other health problems.

“They are small and if you take them out they very often never come back again, but previously it was a big procedure to get to them.”

The thymus gland is an organ of the immune system that is difficult to access as it sits below the breast bone.

Previously patients needed a sternotomy – an incision through flat bone in the middle of the chest that holds the ribs together – to enable surgeons to remove any tumours.

But the VATS thymectomy enables surgeons to remove the tumours using three 5mm incisions in the side of the chest thanks to the assistance of tiny state-of-the-art digital cameras.

“There is a huge benefit for patients as hospital stays are reduced from five to six days to just one to two days,” said Mr Dunning.

“It’s fantastic to be one of the few centres in the country offering this advanced procedure – we believe we are the first in the Northern region.”

The first patient to undergo the new procedure at James Cook was mum-of-three Alison Blyth from Skelton.

“I was getting treated for angina and they sent me for a CT scan and it was just by accident they came across it,” said Alison, 53, who was in and out of hospital within two days of the procedure.

“I’m just pleased I won’t be left with a big scar across my chest. The operation went fine and I have had no problems at all. I can’t fault the nurses and Mr Dunning has been fantastic.”