Mesothelioma Treatments

Mesothelioma and Thoracentesis

Mesothelioma is a rare type of cancer almost exclusively caused by extended exposure to asbestos that develops in the mesothelium, the lining that surrounds and protects the internal organs of the abdominal cavity. The asbestos fibers are often inhaled or ingested by asbestos workers and their families and, over the course of many years, damage cells ultimately causing them to turn cancerous. Usually the time between exposure to the asbestos and the time symptoms begin to appear is more than 25 years, which makes diagnosis much more difficult.

One of the first and most common symptoms of mesothelioma is breathlessness caused by the excessive accumulation of fluid between the pleural layer lining the lungs, called the visceral pleura, and the pleural layer lining the chest cavity, called the parietal pleura. This excess fluid, called pleural effusion, decreases the ability of the lungs to expand making it both difficult and painful for the patient to breathe. Thoracentesis is the removal of the accumulated fluid from between the pleural layers.

Thoracentesis Procedure

While some fluid is normal between the lining of the lungs and the lining of the chest cavity, Thoracentesis treatment reduces the fluid associated with the pleural effusions. This reduces the pressure on the lungs and chest wall.

Thoracentesis is frequently performed as a relatively simple outpatient procedure. To perform this procedure, a syringe or catheter is inserted into the space between the lung and chest wall, and the fluid is aspirated (or removed). The needle is normally inserted from the back, between the ribs and into the lung area. A small patch of skin is sterilized and numbing medication is injected into the area where the thoracentesis needle will be inserted into the pleural space. A catheter tube is then inserted and the needle removed.

The excess fluid drains into an attached collection cylinder where it is held in a sterile environment for potential diagnostic uses. The doctor is careful to ensure that the fluid drains slowly to avoid a drop in the patient's blood pressure or further fluid buildup in the lungs. The total procedure is short, relatively painless and complications are rare. The medical terminology used to describe the results of the thoracentesis procedure is "pleural fluid aspiration."

For more information on the thoracentesis procedure and other types of treatment options available to mesothelioma patients, please fill out the form on this page to receive a complimentary information packet on all topics related to this rare cancer.

Diagnostic Thoracentesis

Examination of the fluid can assist doctors in determining the cause of the pleural effusion. There are two types of fluid present in pleural effusions: exudative fluid and transudative fluid. Exudative fluid appears cloudy because it contains many cells and proteins, and is indicative of diseases of the pleural mesothelial cells such as mesothelioma. Transudative fluid is the clear fluid normally present between the pleural layers, and while it may indicate disease within the body, it is not related to the presence of mesothelioma. The thoracentesis is an indication of potential mesothelioma, but it is not usually considered fully diagnostic without further confirmation through other means.

Palliative Thoracentesis

As described above, the presence of pleural effusion puts pressure on the chest and lungs making breathing difficult and painful. Removal of the excess fluid reduces the pressure and in turn eases the stress of breathing and reduces the associated pain.

Thoracentesis can also be performed to prepare a patient for pleurodesis. Pleurodesis is a procedure in which a chemical irritant is inserted between the pleural layers to cause the layers to stick together. This removes the space between the pleural layers so that fluid can no longer accumulate there. Before the chemical irritant can be inserted, the fluid in this space must be removed via the thoracentesis procedure. This procedure is performed when the patient has recurrent pleural effusions that interfere with the patient's quality of life. By sealing the layers doctors can provide a long-term solution so that the patient doesn't have to make regular trips to the hospital to have the fluid drained.

Thoracentesis is a relatively low risk procedure that can make a significant difference in some people's comfort level. Unfortunately, it is not appropriate for all mesothelioma patients. It is, however, worth discussing with a doctor for a patient who believes it is something that would be of benefit to them.

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