Thoracic Surgery Services

The Division of Thoracic Surgery at the Stanford School of Medicine in the San Francisco Bay Area manages diseases of the lungs, esophagus/stomach, mediastinum, diaphragm, and chest wall. Our most commonly performed operations include lobectomy for lung cancer, esophagectomy for esophageal cancer, and thymectomy for thymic tumors or myasthenia gravis.

Stanford Thoracic Surgery delivers exemplary high quality care:

Stanford Thoracic Surgery has been honored by the 2023-2024 US News and World Report Specialty rankings by being ranked as the 7th highest-rated institution in the United States in their “Pulmonology and Lung Surgery” category. This of course confirms that we are in the very top tier of surgeons and pulmonologists who diagnose and treat lung cancer, as well as other lung problems. The ranking is based on a combination of factors including patient survival and other outcomes; structural factors such as volume, staffing, nursing quality, and accreditations; the expert opinion of other physicians; and patient experience scores.

Stanford Thoracic Surgery has been awarded a coveted 3-star, highest rating for the 2016-2018 reporting period from the STS National Database for our lung lobectomy outcomes. This puts us among the top approximately 5% of the most elite thoracic surgery programs in the country.

And in the 2018 fiscal year, our "observed to expected" patient mortality (death) rate was 0.19 (as compared to the "expected" rate of 1.0). This rating, published by the nationally recognized and widely used rating service, Vizient, is extraordinary. It means that using data from nearly all surgery groups that provide care for the same diseases around the United States, our patients have a death rate that is 19% of the "expected" death rate for patients with the same, serious thoracic diseases and similar overall health. In short, we very rarely have a death following our complicated surgeries.

These three ratings place us among an elite handful of thoracic surgery programs in the United States.

Surgical Services We Provide

Thoracoscopic (VATS) Sympathectomy

(for Hyperhidrosis, Raynaud’s phenomenon and reflex sympathetic dystrophy)

Tracheal Resection and Reconstruction

(for Tracheal stenosis, tracheoesophageal fistula (TEF), Tracheal and airway tumors)

Tracheoplasty or tracheobronchoplasty

(for Tracheomalacia and tracheobronchomalacia)

Additional Resources

The Stanford Center for Minimally Invasive Thoracic Surgery (SMITS), co-directed by Drs. Mark Berry and Joseph Shrager, was founded in 2014 to recognize Stanford's position among the leading thoracic surgery centers in the United States in experience and expertise in minimally invasive approaches to chest diseases.  

Our surgeons were early adopters of minimally invasive techniques as it became clear that they have substantial benefits to patients when used appropriately. Our surgical outcomes have most recently been ranked within the top 6% of programs in the country by the Society of Thoracic Surgeons General Thoracic Surgery Database, earning us the highest, 3-star rating for the 2016-2018 reporting period for our pulmonary lobectomy results. This database tracks outcomes primarily for specialized, large, academic medical center thoracic surgery practices. In other words, our results fall within the top 7% of a very elite group. We have also been deemed a "high performing hospital" in lung cancer surgery by U.S. News and World Report.

We consider excellence in lung cancer surgery to be at the core of the mission of the Thoracic Surgery service at Stanford. You will be treated at Stanford by thoracic surgeons who are super-specialized in the management of lung cancer and have trained to treat this disease at some of the top thoracic surgery units in the country. We work together with oncologists, radiation oncologists, pathologists, and radiologists at the Stanford Cancer Center to provide a comprehensive approach to therapy.

At Stanford, we provide a wide range of minimally invasive surgical treatments for gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), achalasia, paraesophageal hernia, and Barrett’s esophagus. Minimally invasive treatments are beneficial because, in some cases, they may eliminate the need for more complex surgeries, and in most cases, minimally invasive treatments reduce the patient's length of hospital stay and shorten recovery time. We have general thoracic surgeons that are specially trained in these methods to treat non-malignant esophageal diseases.

Stanford has begun a CT Lung Cancer Screening Program as a collaboration between our radiologists, pulmonologists, and thoracic surgeons. CT screening has been shown to reduce mortality from lung cancer in certain current and former cigarette smokers by approximately 25%.

To schedule CT-based lung cancer screening, please call Stanford Radiology scheduling at (650) 723-6855. Your primary physician will need to place an order for the test, or you will need to see a pulmonologist prior to the test in our Lung Nodule clinic. Please see the CT Lung Cancer Screening Program webpage for details on the program and contact information for enrollment.

Stanford thoracic surgeons evaluate and treat a high volume and wide variety of mediastinal diseases. Since many of these lesions are benign, minimally invasive approaches, which allow for less discomfort and faster recovery, can often be utilized. As in all areas of thoracic surgery, Stanford thoracic surgeons have sub-specialty training in the surgical management of mediastinal tumors and diseases. They have far more experience with these relatively rare diseases than general surgeons and even cardiothoracic surgeons at surrounding community hospitals.

(also known as Endoscopic Thoracic Sympathectomy or ETS)

Stanford surgeons have performed approximately over 200 Thoracoscopic (VATS) sympathectomies for hyperhidrosis over the past 10 years, representing a very extensive experience and demonstrating our significant commitment to the care of patients with hyperhidrosis. All of our surgeons have a particular interest in this condition.

Current medical treatments of emphysema provide a modest degree of palliation, but there is no medical therapy that dramatically improves emphysema patients' shortness of breath or improves their survival. However, Lung Volume Reduction Surgery (LVRS) may be a viable solution for qualifying patients.

Stanford is the highest volume and highest quality esophagectomy center in the San Francisco Bay Area. We consider excellence in the surgical management of esophageal cancer, along with management of lung cancer, to be at the core of the mission of the Thoracic Surgery service at Stanford.

A metastasis is a type of lung tumor that develops when cancer from another body site (for example, the breast or colon) spreads to the lung. When this occurs, the tumors in the lung are referred to as metastatic lung (pulmonary) tumors. Because it acts as a sieve for all of the blood that passes through the body, the lung is a very common site for metastatic tumors to lodge. Fortunately, patients with tumors that spread to the lung from other sites often still have a chance to be cured by surgical removal of these metastatic lung tumors, frequently in combination with chemotherapy.

Malignant Pleural Mesothelioma (MPM) is a rare and aggressive form of cancer that originates in the pleura within the chest cavity. The treatment of malignant pleural mesothelioma depends on the tumor stage, and the patient's age and overall condition. Treatment strategies for MPM include chemotherapy, radiation, surgery, or a combination of these approaches. At Stanford, we believe in a surgery-based multimodality treatment approach, whenever possible. Drs. Leah Backhus and Mark Berry have special interest in this disease process.

Disorders of the chest wall are common. They include both benign, congenital conditions such as pectus excavatum as well as tumors. Patients with benign conditions, trauma, or pectus excavatum benefit from a multidisciplinary approach to surgical care. We offer a comprehensive evaluation and approach to surgical correction of pectus deformities with our clinical team partners in Plastic Surgery, Cardiology, Pulmonary Medicine, and Physical Therapy. Surgical options include traditional open repairs (Ravitch procedure) and minimally invasive surgery (Nuss procedure) as well as revision following prior surgical procedure

Chest wall tumors can be either benign or malignant. The most common primary malignant chest wall tumors are sarcomas—chondrosarcomas specifically. Metastatic lesions (particularly from breast cancer) can also occur. Usually, the specific diagnosis can be made by a core needle biopsy. Occasionally, however, a firm diagnosis may require an open biopsy. Chest wall resection, with or without removal of adjacent lung tissue, can be done in reasonably straightforward fashion by experienced thoracic surgeons. Chest wall reconstruction may require placement of prosthetic materials and/or rotation of muscle flaps to create cosmetically acceptable and functional results. Patients with chest wall tumors may benefit from evaluation in the Comprehensive Thoracic Oncology Clinic or the Sarcoma tumor board, as multidisciplinary approaches involving surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy may be necessary. Patients with other abnormalities of the chest wall including benign conditions, trauma, or congenital defects such as pectus excavatum also benefit from a multidisciplinary approach to surgical care.

All chest wall deformities as well as tumors of the chest wall are managed through our comprehensive Adult Chest Wall Surgery Program. Our Stanford surgeons are highly experienced in all surgical treatment options.

Diseases of the trachea and airways are uncommon and diverse. We have a special interest in these conditions, including tracheal stenosis, tracheal and airway tumors, tracheoesophageal fistula, and tracheomalacia. Two of our surgeons (Drs. Natalie Lui and Joseph Shrager) trained at the Massachusetts General Hospital, the world leader in management of these difficult problems. We work closely with the Division of Interventional Pulmonology and the Department of Otolaryngology Head and Neck Surgery to offer the full spectrum of treatments, from bronchoscopic procedures such as ablation and stent placement, to surgical procedures such as tracheal resection and reconstruction and tracheoplasty.

Video-assisted Thoracic Surgery

Over the last 5-10 years, the field of minimally invasive surgery has expanded dramatically. Initially used primarily by gynecologists, minimally invasive techniques and equipment were adapted for general surgical (abdominal) procedures and subsequently for intrathoracic use of procedures such as pulmonary resection, pleural biopsy, removal of mediastinal tumors, and sympathectomy (for reflex sympathetic dystrophy and hyperhydrosis).

Please see our other sections listed below that highlight use of video-assisted thoracic surgery for the treatment of specific thoracic problems:

Robotic surgery is the latest minimally invasive approach to thoracic surgery. Like video-assisted thoracoscopy (VATS), the robot allows operations to be performed through several small incisions, instead of a thoracotomy incision that requires rib spreading. Both VATS and robotic approaches therefore reduce postoperative pain and the rate of some complications. Robotic surgery does, however, require experience to perform operations safely and effectively. All of the Stanford thoracic surgeons have substantial experience with the robot.

If you would like to make an appointment to see one of our surgeons for any of these problems, please call (650) 498-6000 and ask for the Thoracic Surgery new patient coordinator, or call (650) 721-2086.

Our Thoracic Team

Joseph Shrager, MD

Professor, Division Chief, and Co-Director Thoracic Oncology Clinical Care Program

Leah Backhus, MD, MPH, FACS

Thelma and Henry Doelger Professor of Cardiovascular Surgery

Mark Berry, MD

Mylavarapu Rogers Professor

Natalie Lui, MD

Assistant Professor

Douglas Liou, MD

Clinical Associate Professor

Irmina Elliott, MD

Clinical Assistant Professor

Brandon Guenthart, MD

Clinical Assistant Professor

The Division of Thoracic Surgery in the Department of Cardiothoracic Surgery at the Stanford School of Medicine is located in the San Francisco Bay Area in northern California. For more information about our services, please contact Donna Yoshida at (650) 721-2086 or Cliff David at (650) 721-6400. For new patient Thoracic Surgery Clinic Scheduling, please call (650) 498-6000.