Surgery is a common treatment option for mesothelioma, especially in the early stages of the disease. Surgery can also be used to diagnose mesothelioma. Doctors generally perform surgery to conclusively identify the disease, eliminate or reduce mesothelioma tumors and nearby cancer cells, and alleviate symptoms.
As with any type of medical treatment, it is important to find experienced practitioners who understand mesothelioma surgery – find out more about how we can help you locate a qualified surgeon.
Because mesothelioma can be difficult to diagnose, a surgical procedure may be useful in establishing the presence and extent of the disease. Different types of procedures are used depending on imaging test results, the area of concern and other factors. Though relatively minor, these procedures do carry some risk that your doctor will discuss with you in advance. One technique, video-assisted thoracic surgery (known as VATS), utilizes a small camera to view the pleural cavity and help determine the best treatment approach.
Potentially curative surgery vs. palliative surgery
While there is no demonstrated cure for mesothelioma, surgery after early detection offers a better chance to remove most or even all of the cancerous tissue and therefore extend life expectancy, potentially measured in years rather than months. The earlier the stage of the disease, the better the chance that a high percentage of the cancer can be removed. Because success rates are low even when the cancer is caught early, surgery that stands at least a fighting chance of eliminating most or all of the tumors should be referred to as “potentially curative” rather than “curative.”
The majority of mesothelioma cases are diagnosed in the later stages, so most mesothelioma surgery is palliative in nature, meaning that it is primarily designed to slow the progress of the disease and/or relieve its symptoms.
"While there is no demonstrated cure for mesothelioma, surgery after early detection offers a better chance to remove most or even all of the cancerous tissue and therefore extend life expectancy."
Some types of surgery may be either potentially curative or palliative, with similar objectives in either case. A pleurectomy targets the primary tumor on the lung and involves removing the affected mesothelial tissue. A pneumonectomy involves the removal of an entire lung and is mostly employed when the disease is confined to one lung only. In a more radical procedure known as extrapleural pneumonectomy, other affected areas in the pericardium, lungs and elsewhere in the chest may be removed.
Several types of palliative surgery are designed to decrease fluid buildup in the lungs, pleura and abdomen, all of which can result in breathing difficulties and pain. In these procedures, fluid is removed using a needle, which is an invasive procedure and therefore considered a type of surgery. A tube or catheter may also be inserted to drain the fluid and/or inject medicine to prevent fluid from further buildup.
Surgery is often used in combination with chemotherapy and radiation therapy to treat all types of mesothelioma. Studies have shown that combination therapy, while not providing a cure, does consistently extend survival rates. In recent decades, more people are employing alternative treatments in conjunction with conventional methods, though the effectiveness of these treatments has not been the subject of much scientific research and remains anecdotal in nature.