Diagnostic Video-Assisted Thoracoscopic Procedures

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The authors evaluated the effectiveness and the limitations of video-assisted diagnostic thoracoscopy.

Summary Background Data

The initial successes achieved with the use of video-assisted diagnostic thoracoscopic techniques has lead to an enthusiastic propagation of its use by thoracic surgeons as well as by some pulmonologists. However, detailed analyses of the diagnostic yield and potential limitations of this technique in relation to the roentgenographic and pathologic presentations of the patients are necessary to ensure its safe and effective application.


From July 1991 to December 1993, 102 diagnostic video-assisted thoracoscopic procedures were performed. All patients received other preoperative diagnostic workups without a definitive diagnosis. The initial roentgenographic presentations of these patients included 42 pulmonary nodules, 23 interstitial processes, 11 parenchymal infiltrates, 6 pleural effusions, 10 mediastinal tumors, and 10 mediastinal lymphadenopathies. If the procedure was completed without minithoracotomy or extension of any port site, then it was defined as an exclusive thoracoscopic biopsy (ETB); if the procedure was completed with the assistance of minithoracotomy (4–6 cm), then it was defined as a supplementary thoracoscopic biopsy (STB).


Ninety-two of the pathology reports (90.2%) were interpreted as conclusive. Of these, 35 tumors were malignant and 67 benign. Ten pathology reports were inconclusive and on initial roentgenography had presented as pulmonary infiltrates (4 cases), pulmonary nodule (2), pleural effusion (2), interstitial process (1), and mediastinal lymphadenopathy (1). Seventy-six procedures (74.5%) were completed thoracoscopically and were classified as ETB. The remaining 26 procedures (25.5%) were completed with minithoracotomy and were classified as STB. The underlying diseases in the STB group were carcinoma (8 cases), Hodgkin's lymphoma (3), sarcoidosis (3), tuberculosis (2), interstitial pneumonitis (2), organizing pneumonia (2), mesothelioma (1), and miscellaneous disease (5). The reasons given for minithoracotomy were diffuse intrapleural adhesion (10 cases), technical inexperience (8), inability to localize the lesion (5), problems with anesthesia (1), poor patient tolerance (1), and unknown (1). Four patients (3.9%) experienced complications and three (2.9%) died while in the hospital.


Diagnostic thoracoscopy provides high diagnostic yield with very low risk. However, 25.5% of the procedures require minithoracotomy to obtain adequate tissue for definitive diagnosis. This finding supports the assertion that diagnostic thoracoscopy should be performed only by experienced thoracic surgeons who can extend the procedure when indicated.

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