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Surgical Treatments for Mesothelioma

Depending on the location of mesothelioma tumors, and how much they have spread, doctors may recommend surgery to their mesothelioma patients. Sometimes these procedures are curative (meant to cure or slow the growth of cancer) and sometimes they are palliative (only intended to reduce pain or discomfort). When used in conjunction with chemotherapy and/or radiation, surgery can be effective.

If you or a loved one is living with mesothelioma, it is normal to feel apprehensive or even a little frightened about the prospect of surgery. However, mesothelioma surgical treatments can increase patients’ life expectancies and overall comfort levels. If your doctor has recommended surgery, you should research and carefully consider this option.

Pleural Mesothelioma Surgeries

For patients with pleural mesothelioma, which affects the protective lining over the lungs, potential surgical options include:

Pleurectomy. This procedure involves removing part of the pleura, the part of the mesothelium that covers and protects the lungs. The surgeon performing this procedure will remove the primary tumors and any tissue that appears to be affected by the cancer. This procedure is usually only recommended for patients with otherwise strong hearts, lungs, and immune systems. It is rarely a cure, but can extend a patient’s life expectancy.

Pneumonectomy. This is a more radical procedure that involves removing a cancerous lung. It is not a good option for most mesothelioma patients, as the potential for complications is relatively high. However, if the cancer has not spread too far throughout the body, and concurrent treatments like chemotherapy are used, this can be a useful option.

Peritoneal Mesothelioma Surgeries

There are also surgical options for patients with peritoneal mesothelioma, which affects the protective membrane over the abdomen. The most common are:

Peritonectomy. This is similar to a pleurectomy, except the cancer is being removed from the peritoneum instead of the pleura. It can slow the growth of the disease and reduce the patient’s pain, especially when used along with other treatments.

Cytoreductive surgery. This is a relatively new kind of treatment in which surgeons remove as many cancerous growths as possible, then administer chemotherapy directly into the abdomen. The chemotherapy step can be repeated several times over the course of the patient’s treatment. Initial studies have shown this treatment to be effective in extending some patients’ life expectancies.

Pericardial Mesothelioma Surgeries

Pericardial mesothelioma affects the protective membrane over the heart. Patients with this form of mesothelioma are less likely to undergo surgery than other mesothelioma patients, because of the risks associated with operating near the heart. In rare cases, when the tumor is still small and has not spread, surgery may be recommended for pericardial mesothelioma.

If so, the surgeon will remove as much of the cancerous growth from the pericardium (the heart’s protective covering) as possible. Unfortunately, this surgery can be dangerous and is not helpful for many patients. Most people with pericardial mesothelioma will only be treated with chemotherapy and/or radiation therapy.

Mesothelioma Surgery Candidates

The best candidates for mesothelioma surgery are in the earlier stages of the illness, without many other health complications. While these surgeries can be risky, and may have uncomfortable recovery periods, they can be useful in reducing pain and slowing the spread of cancer. If you think you or someone you care for may be a good candidate for mesothelioma surgery, talk to your doctor.

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