Mesothelioma surgery is generally reserved for diagnoses that are made before an individual has reached Stage IV of the disease. Although a “curative” surgery is not possible with mesothelioma, the ability to remove tumors by surgery can alleviate some of the debilitating symptoms of mesothelioma, such as breathing difficulties and chest pain. Probably the most commonly used surgical technique used on mesothelioma patients is thoracentesis, or fluid aspiration or removal. While not a complicated procedure, thoracentesis relieves the pressure felt on the lungs as a result of abnormal cells proliferating in the in and around the lungs, making breathing much easier for the patient. This type of surgery can also be performed on the stomach and heart as well if the mesothelioma has spread to those areas and is causing fluid buildup in the tissues.
A pleurodesis is another surgical technique in which the surgeon injects certain chemical substances into the chest cavity which produces scarring that inhibit fluid retention. According to the American Cancer Society, pleurodesis is almost always successful, with a 90% success rate. Unlike thoracentesis, however, this surgery needs the patient to be anesthetized and placed in a hospital for two to three days.
In more advanced stages of mesothelioma, a pleurectomy may be initiated to alleviate symptoms of mesothelioma. A surgeon will remove the lung lining, called the pleura, where tumors usually develop. Again, this is only a palliative procedure and prevents excessive fluid from interfering with breathing. A pleurectomy will ease chest pain as well.
When mesothelioma is caught in its early stages, doctors may sometimes elect to perform an extrapleural pneumonectomy, which is a comprehensive surgical technique that removes the pleural lining in the pericardium, chest wall, diaphragm, and lung in which tumors are located. These areas are then reconstructed with material similar to that used in prosthesis devices. Patients who are considered good candidates for being cured or partially cured of mesothelioma are the only patients considered for this type of surgery.