Most Common Complications of Mesothelioma Surgery

Treatment // August 10, 2016

Although many clinical trials are being carried out that test new experimental treatments, currently the most common treatment options for mesothelioma include surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation – usually a combination of these known as “multimodal” therapy.

Surgery for mesothelioma can be carried out in an attempt to remove the cancer completely or to simply relieve the pain and symptoms caused by the tumor itself. Those in good health with a cancer that has not spread far usually undergo the first option. However, in cases where the tumor has spread too far or it would prove too difficult to remove, patients undergo palliative surgery instead.

Common Complications Following Surgery for Mesothelioma

For patients who undergo mesothelioma surgery, it can be a very scary and anxious time for themselves and their families. Although the surgery itself is beneficial, there are some common complications that patients should be aware of. Complications are medical issues that may crop up after the surgery is carried out, and they can develop due to a number of different factors like a patient’s age, their health before the surgery or the extent of the surgery itself.

It’s important to note that not all patients will experience a complication. In fact, the vast majority of people will not have any. Nonetheless, it is still a good idea to have an understanding of those that might occur.

Respiratory Failure

Respiratory failure is a term used to describe the lungs when they are not functioning properly and as a result the body is not getting enough oxygen. This can be due to a number of different reasons but patients may experience difficulty breathing, shortness of breath and chest discomfort. Respiratory failure is treated with oxygen therapy, medications and other measures to help support breathing. Patients with respiratory failure are usually monitored quite closely until their lungs are back to normal functioning.

Pulmonary Embolism / Blood Clots

A blood clot that forms in the legs is called a deep vein thrombosis. Clots can occur following any kind of operation, but patients undergoing mesothelioma surgery are at particular risk because they are bed bound for long periods of time. A blood clot in the leg usually leads to a swollen, painful and red calf, and if the symptoms are caught early enough this can be treated with simple medications. However, if the blood clot is left untreated, it can break off from the vessel in the leg and travel up to the lungs. This is called a pulmonary embolism and is extremely serious. A pulmonary embolism can cause symptoms like shortness of breath, coughing up blood and difficulty breathing.

To help reduce the chances of developing either a deep vein thrombosis or pulmonary embolism, patients are usually given blood thinners and compression stockings. The healthcare team will also recommend exercises to help prevent blood clots from forming.


Pneumonia is an infection of the lungs that can happen after surgery. It usually causes a high temperature, shortness of breath, and a productive cough. Like most chest infections pneumonia is treated with antibiotics, extra oxygen, and other supportive measurements like chest physiotherapy.

Fluid Buildup

Following surgery excess fluid may sometimes build up around the lungs, which causes them to stop working properly. This can lead to chest pain, fatigue, and shortness of breath. Any fluid build-up can be very dangerous so doctors may insert a very small tube (called a chest drain) into the chest to help get rid of the excess fluid. The drain is used for a short period of time until the lungs are able to function normally on their own.

How Doctors Minimize Complications of Mesothelioma

Doctors and other healthcare staff at the hospital will do their best to make sure that patients have a smooth and uneventful recovery. They will try to minimize complications by asking patients to use deep breathing exercises following the operation, get patients out of bed for short periods of time to improve circulation, and prescribe medications that help with pain, wound healing and stop clots from forming.

Also, it’s important to note that, while the complications listed above are the most common postoperative conditions associated with mesothelioma, they are not the only ones. As with any surgery, mesothelioma surgery can lead to a wide variety of potential issues.

Prior to the surgery, it is always a good idea for patients to sit down with their doctor to discuss any issues or concerns they may have. Bring along someone you trust, such as a family member or a good friend, who can ask additional questions and make sure the communication between the patient and doctor is working effectively. Doing so can make everyone feel better about the process by making sure all involved are aware of the risks and measures taken to prevent them.