Mesothelioma is a rare form of cancer that attacks the lining of the lungs, the abdomen, or the heart. There are several established surgical options, but many patients do not qualify for surgical options due to age, general health, or advanced stages of the disease. When a surgical option is feasible, it is usually combined with other methods of treatment, including chemotherapy and radiation, for a comprehensive and aggressive approach to saving the patient’s life. There is no cure, but if it is caught early enough, the impact of mesothelioma can be significantly reduced. There are three types of surgeries most commonly scheduled for mesothelioma patients.
Diagnostic Mesothelioma Surgery
Diagnostic surgeries are performed on nearly every mesothelioma patient. These minor surgical procedures carry little risk and provide a wealth of information to help the doctor pinpoint the type of mesothelioma and the origin point and extent of the disease. Diagnostic surgeries include simple biopsies, where the surgeon inserts a long, thin needle into the area suspected to be cancerous and extracts a tissue sample, or an excisional biopsy, where the surgeon collects a larger sample via a small incision.
Doctors may also use a similar technique to drain fluid for diagnostic purposes. A long, thin needle is inserted that is attached to flexible tubing and a collection bag. The extracted fluid contains cancerous cells and clues to the disease that aid in the diagnostic process.
Curative Mesothelioma Surgery
If there is enough healthy tissue remaining, surgeons may opt for curative surgery. During this procedure, the area is opened and the cancer tumors and cancerous tissue is removed. A recently developed procedure involves replacing removed tissue with a product similar to Gore-Tex, the same material used in winter clothing used for extreme cold temperatures.
Another new addition to the curative surgery arena is irrigation of the affected area using warmed chemotherapy. This is an extremely effective treatment used to kill remaining cancer cells that the surgeon may have missed or was unable to remove.
Curative surgery has a very high success rate, but since mesothelioma is nearly always diagnosed in the late stages of the disease, very few patients are eligible.
Palliative Mesothelioma Surgery
The overwhelming majority of mesothelioma patients are given palliative care to improve the quality of the life they have remaining. Palliative surgery involves draining the fluids that build up due to the blockage caused by tumor growths. Draining the fluid relieves pressure, eases pain, and makes breathing easier, but it must be done regularly. Doctors study the drained fluids to gain better understanding of the disease.