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Assessment of Patient Fitness for Thoracic Surgery

Thoracic surgery, involving procedures on the lungs, heart, and other structures within the chest cavity, is a major intervention that can pose significant risks. Hence, preoperative assessment of a patient's fitness for thoracic surgery is crucial to determine surgical feasibility, inform patients of potential risks and benefits, and optimize preoperative conditions for a favorable surgical outcome.

Patient Evaluation

  1. History and Physical Examination: Every preoperative evaluation begins with a comprehensive medical history and physical examination. Factors such as age, smoking history, preexisting conditions (like chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), asthma, cardiovascular disease, or diabetes), and previous surgeries can significantly influence the risk profile.
  2. Pulmonary Function Testing (PFT): PFT is a key part of preoperative assessment for thoracic surgery. It provides vital information about lung function and can predict postoperative pulmonary function. The forced expiratory volume in one second (FEV1) and diffusion capacity of the lung for carbon monoxide (DLCO) are particularly important measures.
  3. Cardiac Evaluation: Cardiovascular disease is a common comorbidity in patients undergoing thoracic surgery. A thorough cardiac evaluation may include an electrocardiogram (ECG), echocardiography, or stress testing. In specific cases, a coronary angiography may be necessary.
  4. Imaging: CT scans of the chest provide crucial information about the disease's location, extent, and potential surgical approach. They also help identify any unforeseen issues, like unexpected metastasis in cases of lung cancer.
  5. Nutritional Status: Malnutrition can lead to delayed wound healing and increase the risk of postoperative complications. Assessing nutritional status, including parameters like BMI and serum albumin levels, is crucial.
  6. Performance Status: Tools like the Eastern Cooperative Oncology Group (ECOG) or Karnofsky Performance Status (KPS) scales help assess a patient's ability to perform everyday tasks, providing insights into their overall health status and resilience.
  7. Exercise Testing: Exercise tests, such as the six-minute walk test or cardiopulmonary exercise testing (CPET), provide objective measures of a patient's aerobic fitness and endurance.

Risk Stratification and Optimization

Assessment data is used to stratify patients into risk categories. High-risk patients may need additional investigations and interventions to optimize their condition before surgery. Smoking cessation, pulmonary rehabilitation, and optimization of any preexisting conditions (like diabetes or hypertension) are key components of preoperative optimization.

Informed Consent

Once fitness for surgery is established, it is crucial to discuss the potential risks and benefits with the patient. This conversation should encompass not only the surgical risks but also the expected postoperative recovery period and the impact on the patient's quality of life.

Assessing patient fitness for thoracic surgery is a comprehensive process, demanding careful consideration of multiple factors, including pulmonary function, cardiac health, and overall performance status. It enables clinicians to identify potential risks, optimize patient condition before surgery, and set realistic expectations, thereby paving the way for successful surgical outcomes. As each patient is unique, the assessment must be personalized and nuanced, balancing the potential benefits of surgery against its risks.