Surgery can be performed on mesothelioma patients for one of two reasons: in an attempt to cure the disease or for palliative reasons in order to keep the patient more comfortable and improve the quality of life. Because mesothelioma is nearly always diagnosed in its later stages, curative surgery is typically not an option. Once the tumor has metastasized outside the pleural cavity, palliation is typically the only ends for which surgery is utilized.
As tests are developed that may help to diagnose mesothelioma at an earlier stage, surgery may become more of an option in the future. At that point, doctors may be able to attempt to remove the cancer and some of the surrounding tissue in an attempt to stabilize the disease.
More often, however, surgery is used as a palliative measure. For example, doctors may opt for a surgery called a pleurodesis, which involves injecting talc into the lungs to prevent fluid from returning. A thoracentesis, a surgical procedure that removes fluid from the lungs by means of a thin needle, may also be recommended.
In severe cases, a pleurectomy may be recommended for palliative purposes. This involves removing the pleura – the lining of the lung – and can control fluid build-up and lessen pain and breathing difficulties.
Advancements in Mesothelioma Surgery
In recent years, there have been advancements with extensive surgeries that have extended mesothelioma survival rates in those diagnosed with early stage disease. Among the more exciting of these treatments is what is known as extrapleural pneumonectomy. This procedure, which requires the expertise of a leading mesothelioma doctor, involves the surgical resection of the entire affected lung, pleurectomy, removal of the pericardium (a membrane which surrounds the heart), and the diaphragm. During the course of surgery, intra-operative chemotherapy agent (i.e. cisplatin or GEMzar) will be applied directly to the affected area to eliminate any remaining malignant cells. Following the application of chemotherapy, the diaphragm and pericardium are reconstructed with prosthetic material.