Ravindra Vegunta, MD is a pediatric surgeon at Cardon Children's Medical Center. For more information on this topic, please consult with your doctor or call Dr. Vegunta's office at (480) 412-9400.
Question: My 9-year-old son has a chest deformity where his breast bone appears hollow. While it doesn't cause him any physical limitations, it makes him very self-conscious. Are there treatment options available to correct his condition?
Answer: The condition you describe is called pectus excavatum and it occurs when the breast bone is pulled inward, creating a visible hollowing of the chest. This chest wall deformity is relatively common and runs in families. Boys are affected by pectus excavatum four times more than girls are, and the breast bone depression can range from subtle to prominent. In severe cases, the child may experience pain or breathlessness, but more often it is a cosmetic concern affecting a child’s body image.
A minimally invasive procedure is available to treat the condition. The surgery, called a NUSS procedure, requires using a steel bar that is inserted into the chest using very small incisions to correct the deformity. While the condition is usually identified early, the surgery is typically performed when the child is 10 to 12 years old because the patient is more mature and better able to understand the process. The bar remains in place for several years to ensure the correction is maintained, and then removed after the typical adolescent growth spurt is complete.
The procedure is highly effective at correcting the deformity, and is helpful in restoring body confidence in children affected by the condition. If your pediatrician or family doctor is not familiar with the procedure, speaking with a pediatric surgeon about your options can be helpful to evaluate the degree of the deformity and how your child might benefit from the surgery.