Mesothelioma Treatments

Mesothelioma & Surgery

Malignant mesothelioma is one of several diseases that result from extended exposure to asbestos. It is one of the most difficult cancers to treat and unless it is caught in its earliest stages. Among the treatments traditionally used against mesothelioma are chemotherapy and radiation. Surgical removal is perhaps the best treatment, but is generally removal of the tumor is only available for patients whose malignancy is caught relatively early. Surgical procedures involved in the treatment and diagnosis of mesothelioma are divided into three main categories:

  • Diagnostic surgery is used to confirm whether or not cancer is present and where it is located. This is typically non-invasive.
  • Curative surgery is carried out with the intention of removing as much cancer as possible with hopes of curing the patient. Radiation therapy or chemotherapy is often administered following curative surgery.
  • Palliative surgery involves the removal of cancerous tissue and is used to provide symptomatic relief, but does not offer a cure.

Diagnostic Surgery

Diagnostic surgery can be broken down into several types. Thoracoscopy enables a physician to evaluate the pleural cavity and to conduct multiple tissue biopsies. In most cases the doctor can make a definitive diagnosis. VATS, or video-assisted thoracic surgery is an alternative to Thoracoscopy but because it is more invasive there in increased possibility of the procedure itself causing tumor seeding unless it is accompanied by other treatments to kill any cancerous cells that are transported to healthy tissue during the surgery. Mediastinoscopy is sometimes used to help determine the stage of the mesothelioma. Finally, Laparoscopy is used in mesothelioma patients in cases where doctors believe the tumor may have invaded the diaphragm.

Curative Surgery

Curative surgery is the surgical removal of stage I and sometimes stage II mesothelioma that has not spread. It literally is the physical removal of the cancerous tumor from the patient's body, usually with a small amount of surrounding healthy tissue. Pleurectomy/Decortication is usually performed on patients with early stage disease and is an attempt to remove all visible tumors. If the doctor determines that all of the tumor cannot be removed without removing the lung, this may be done at the same time and is called a pneumonectomy.

Extra pleural pneumonectomy is considerably more invasive than other surgical approaches, and should only be performed by surgeons with a lot of experience in evaluating patients and performing the procedure itself. This treatment involves the surgical removal of the lung, the diaphragm and part of the pericardial sac (the membrane surrounding the heart). Extrapleural pneumonectomy is usually combined with new generation chemotherapy and/or radiation, and other new approaches such as gene therapy, immunotherapy or photodynamic therapy.

One of the difficulties in performing many of the surgeries used in mesothelioma treatment is that they require the patient to undergo general anesthesia. There are risks associated with anesthesia that require a certain level of health for the patient prior to surgery. Not everyone who would otherwise benefit from the surgery is healthy enough to have the surgery.

Palliative Surgery

As defined above, palliative surgery for mesothelioma patients does not offer a cure, but it can provide a substantial improvement in the quality of life for patients with stage II and III mesothelioma. Chest Tube Drainage and Pleurodesis are the two most common palliative treatments. Fluid build-up in the space around the lungs, or pleural effusion, is often the first symptom mesothelioma patients notice. It manifests itself as shortness of breath and/or a feeling of pressure in the chest. It can be a recurrent problem. In order to eliminate this problem the doctor may intentionally irritate the pleural lining either manually or through the use of chemical irritants causing it to attach itself to the pleural wall as it heals.

Pleurectomy is the removal of the outer membrane of the lung. When it is used as a palliative procedure, it is understood that all visible or gross tumor cannot be removed. It is considered the most effective means of controlling pleural effusion in cases where the lung's expansion is restricted by disease.

As technology and research advance, surgeries are becoming more successful and are being combined with other treatments that continue to improve the outlook for mesothelioma patient's long-term survival.

While this is a quick overview of the surgical options for mesothelioma patients, a more comprehensive packet of information is provided by to those who fill out the form on this page.

Free information packet on Mesothelioma
City, State, Zip
Phone #

Support Asbestos Awareness
Free Book
Veterans Benefits