A NORTH-EAST surgeon has performed what is believed to be the region's first minimally invasive surgery for removing tumours from the thymus gland.

The video-assisted technique was performed at The James Cook University Hospital in Middlesbrough by cardiothoracic consultant, Joel Dunning.

The advanced procedure 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,  or video assisted thoracic surgery, thymectomy recover much faster and can often go home the next day.

Mr 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.

The first patient to undergo the new procedure at James Cook was mother-of-three Alison Blyth,53, from Skelton.

She said: "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."