Because mesothelioma is most often diagnosed in its later stages, any type of curative surgery for the disease is usually not an option. However, as scientists invent methods that may help detect the disease during its earlier stages, such curative surgeries may become an option sometime in the near future.
For now, surgeries associated with mesothelioma are usually done for palliative purposes; that is, to relieve the unpleasant symptoms of the disease, such as pain, shortness of breath, coughing, and other problems that infringe on the quality of life of most mesothelioma patients. In some instances, these procedures may also prolong the life of the patient, even though they offer no cure.
A number of surgical procedures have been recommended for mesothelioma patients. Some are quite simple and may be performed more than once, while others are quite drastic and are done as a last resort. Your doctor will determine which procedures may be appropriate for your mesothelioma treatment, usually in order to help you remain more comfortable as your disease runs its course. Here are the most common types of mesothelioma surgery suggested for a victim:
Thoracentesis - This is probably the most frequent surgical procedure performed on mesothelioma patients. Thoracentesis involves the aspiration of fluid from the area around the lungs. The removal of the fluid can make the patient more comfortable and temporarily relieve symptoms of the disease, such as chest pain or shortness of breath. Thoracentesis is generally done on an outpatient basis but may be done in the hospital if the patient is considered high risk or if the procedure is done in conjunction with another procedure. Pericardial and peritoneal mesothelioma can also be addressed with a similar procedure, which drains fluid from either the sac around the abdomen or the heart, depending on the type of mesothelioma.
Pleurodesis - This procedure involves the injection of talc or other chemicals into the chest cavity, which causes scarring and prevents fluid from returning. The American Cancer Society reports that this procedure has about a 90% success rate and that it will eliminate or significantly reduce the build-up of fluid at least temporarily in a majority of patients. Because this is a surgical procedure that requires anesthesia, a short hospital stay is in order.
Pleurectomy - A more complicated surgical procedure, the pleurectomy involves removal of the pleura - the lining of the lung - where the tumor is located. Also a palliative procedure, this surgery can prevent fluid build-up, therefore improving breathing and relieving pain. This procedure is also known as decortication.
Extrapleural Pneumonectomy- By far the most extensive surgical procedure and offered to just a handful of mesothelioma patients, the extrapleural pneumonectomy involves the surgical removal of the pleura lining the chest wall, diaphragm, pericardium, and the whole lung on the side of the tumor. The diaphragm and the pericardium are then reconstructed with prosthetic material. Only individuals who have localized mesothelioma of the epithelioid type are candidates for this surgery, which is usually not performed unless the doctor believes there is some chance for cure. Those for whom the surgery is recommended must be in overall good health and able to withstand a major operation with a long recovery period. Only a handful of doctors perform this surgery so travel to a major medical center may be necessary in order to proceed with an extrapleural pneumonectomy.
- American Cancer Society. Detailed Guide. Malignant Mesothelioma Surgery http://www.cancer.org/docroot/CRI/content/CRI_2_4_4X_Surgery_29.asp?sitearea
- National Cancer Institute, Mesothelima Questions and Answers. http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/factsheet/Sites-Types/mesothelioma
- Treasure, T. et al. Radical Surgery for Mesothelioma. British Medical Journal. 2004;328:237-238. 31 January 2007. http://www.bmj.com/cgi/content/full/328/7434/237?q=y
Last modified: December 24, 2010.