Surgery to repair 'funnel chest', a common chest wall birth defect, could improve cardiovascular function.
The condition, known in medical circles as pectus excavatum, affects around one in 1,000 people and is caused by overgrowth of the rib cartilages, leading to a visible depression in the chest.
The majority of surgeons have thus far viewed surgical correction as a cosmetic procedure, rather than providing any physiological benefits.
However, a new study has revealed that surgery can significantly improve cardiovascular function, which is often impaired in people with the deformity.
Researchers in Nebraska and California found that the average cardiovascular lung function increased following surgery to repair the chest wall.
The researchers concluded: "The findings of the present study indicated that surgical repair of the pectus excavatum significantly improves cardiovascular function and contradicts arguments that surgical repair is primarily cosmetic yielding minimal physiological improvement."
Because surgery is generally regarded as cosmetic, patients frequently face a struggle to have these corrective operations performed on the NHS and some prefer to seek private treatment.