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Thoracic Surgery

A thoracic surgeon specializes in diagnosing and surgically treating conditions that affect structures in the thorax, the area including the esophagus, heart, lungs and other structures and organs within the chest.

What is a thoracic surgery?

If you have a medical condition that affects the lungs, heart, esophagus or any other organ in the chest, you might receive initial treatment from your general physician. A doctor, gastroenterologist or thoracic surgeon can treat conditions such as chronic acid reflux or stomach ulcers.

Normally, when the condition reaches the point of needing a thoracic surgeon, surgical treatment is the only option available. Thoracic surgeons use surgical procedures to prevent and repair damage caused by certain medical conditions, including lung cancer, esophageal hernia or malignant lung disease. (Lung cancer is one of the most common cancers and leading causes of cancer death in the United States.)

To determine whether you need a thoracic surgeon, your doctor will perform tests, such as blood work and imaging scans, to spot the issue. Although some people only see the thoracic surgeon a few times after treatment, some have to see them throughout their life for long-term treatment and monitoring.

Thoracic surgeons also monitor injuries to organs in the chest.

Training and specialties of a thoracic surgeon

A thoracic surgeon may specialize in a specific organ in the thorax; for instance, a surgeon who specializes in issues of the heart is called a cardiothoracic surgeon.

Prospective thoracic surgeons must go through rigorous educational requirements to qualify as a surgeons. This training includes, but is not limited to, graduation from a medical school, a five-year residency in general surgery and two to three years of cardiothoracic surgery residency. Upon completion of these criteria, they may go on to study a subspecialty or attain board certification. They earn board certification through the American Board of Thoracic Surgery (ABTS). A thoracic surgeon who enters this program obtains knowledge in various areas of the thoracic field. He or she is tested on their knowledge, integration of skills and judgment of the practice. Once gaining certification, the specialist will receive a license to practice anywhere in the United States.

Finding a reputable thoracic surgeon

If you know that you'll need the services of a thoracic surgeon, contact your health insurance company to make sure that this medical specialty is covered. Depending on your policy, you may need a referral from your primary care physician in order for your policy to pay for treatment. Look for one who specializes in the condition affecting you. This information may not be readily available online, so you may have to call the practice directly. Also, look for a surgeon who is board certified. Board certified doctors are proven to be highly qualified and they must exercise the strictest moral practices and ethics.

Carefully research the thoracic surgeons you are considering by checking with Angie's List. Verify their qualifications, education, continuing education, accepted insurance plans and affiliated hospitals in addition to reading through member reviews and rankings.