Specialists have developed different surgical procedures for each form of mesothelioma, including pleural, peritoneal, and pericardial. Surgery is the most effective treatment for extending patient survival — especially when combined with chemotherapy and radiation. Veterans can undergo mesothelioma surgery at certain VA hospitals or at private cancer centers across the country.
How Mesothelioma Surgery Impacts Life Expectancy
Surgery is the best possible option for mesothelioma patients to live longer. There are life-extending procedures for both pleural and peritoneal mesothelioma.
Many more pleural mesothelioma patients are living past the 3-year mark. Early-stage pleural patients in stages 1-3 are the most common candidates for surgery. Some stage 4 patients are getting surgery as part of clinical trials.
Peritoneal mesothelioma patients have an even better outlook. It’s no longer uncommon for peritoneal patients to live years past their diagnosis. Specialists like the retired Dr. Paul Sugarbaker pushed patients beyond 5 and sometimes 7 years of survival.
Not every patient is a good candidate for surgery, but there are always other treatment options that can help you. Get more information about mesothelioma treatment in your Free Mesothelioma Veterans Packet.
Mesothelioma Surgery Eligibility
Before surgery, your doctors need to know if you’re in good overall health and if you will be able to recover from it. This involves doing certain tests that measure your heart and lung health.
Common tests to determine eligibility for surgery include:
- Electrocardiogram (EKG)
- Cardiac stress test
- Pulmonary function tests
If these tests are normal, your doctor will consider doing surgery to help treat the mesothelioma.
Types of Mesothelioma Surgeries
There are 3 broad types of mesothelioma surgery:
- Diagnostic – How cancer is discovered and diagnosed
- Curative – How cancer is treated successfully
- Palliative – Focused on relieving patient discomfort
Diagnostic Mesothelioma Surgeries
Diagnostic surgeries help get biopsies of diseased tissue. Sometimes these surgeries are noninvasive. They only involve small incisions and placing a small camera to find tumors. Doctors remove a tissue sample through the tiny incision.
Other diagnostic surgeries are more invasive, full surgical procedures. Surgeons operate to get a better look at the extent of the disease.
Some surgeries used to diagnose mesothelioma include:
- Open lung biopsy
- Fine needle biopsy
- Core biopsy
- Excisional biopsy
- Other types of biopsies
The type of diagnostic surgery performed depends on the type of mesothelioma. It also depends on the skill and preference of the mesothelioma specialist.
Curative Mesothelioma Surgeries
Surgery can be done before or after chemotherapy and radiation therapy. Chemotherapy before surgery is called neoadjuvant therapy, and after it is called adjuvant therapy.
If a patient has less advanced mesothelioma, surgery might be done with curative intent. The term “curative” is more of an expression in the medical field.
With the treatment of any cancer, remission is the primary goal. Remission means there are no signs of cancer on test results, but doctors agree the cancer can come back. This is why some doctors don’t use the word “cure.”
All the same, “curative surgery” is a common phrase used to describe the following treatments.
In curative surgeries, doctors remove all visible signs of mesothelioma tumors. Other organs and tissue may also be removed.
In this radical thoracic surgery, the entire affected lung is removed. Parts of the lining of the lung (pleura) and diaphragm are also removed. This is an invasive surgery that can be risky for some patients. It takes several weeks to recover from. Many people have lived long past their prognosis after receiving an EPP.
In this surgery, the cancer is removed along with the pleural lining. The surgeon doesn’t remove the lung or diaphragm. Dr. Robert Cameron developed this lung-sparing surgery at the UCLA Medical Center. It is less invasive than the EPP. People who have this surgery tend to live up to 19 months after having it performed. Some live even longer.
This procedure is performed on patients with peritoneal mesothelioma. First, doctors remove all visible tumors through cytoreductive surgery. Then, they put heated chemotherapy (hyperthermic intraperitoneal chemotherapy) inside the abdominal cavity, which helps kill off any remaining cancer cells. Some people who have had this type of surgery have lived 5 years or more.
Thoracic surgeon Dr. Robert Cameron, who developed the lung-sparing P/D operation, treats veterans at the Los Angeles VA. He is one of the most respected mesothelioma surgeons in the world. Veterans with VA Health Care can receive his curative surgery.
Palliative Mesothelioma Surgeries
Sometimes surgery is done just to relieve mesothelioma symptoms. To cure the disease or extend the individual’s lifetime is not the goal of palliative surgery. The goal is to make patients comfortable. Palliative surgery is an option at any stage of mesothelioma.
Types of palliative surgery include the following:
- Pleurodesis: This procedure is for patients with pleural mesothelioma. It involves inserting a flexible tube into the chest cavity so that fluid can drain from around the lung (pleural effusion). In some cases, chemotherapy drugs are given after the fluid has been drained in order to kill cancer cells. The chemotherapy drug called bleomycin is sometimes used as part of the pleurodesis procedure.
- Thoracotomy: This is an incision in the chest wall. These procedures allow doctors to go inside the chest to remove large tumors and drain fluid. It helps reduce a patient’s pain and makes it easier to breathe.
- Paracentesis: This surgery is for patients with peritoneal mesothelioma. Like pleurodesis, a hollow tube is inserted into the patient. Doctors remove fluid from the abdomen so patients can feel less pressure and less shortness of breath.
- Segmentectomy: This is also called a wedge resection. Doctors remove cancer in one area of the lung, leaving the rest of the lung intact. It is less invasive to do this type of surgery than removing the entire lung. Segmentectomy does not remove all the cancer. Shortness of breath and chest pain can be relieved after this procedure.
- Lobectomy: One or more of the lobes of the lung are removed. It is used when the cancer appears in just one lobe of the lung. It is less invasive than removing the entire lung. A lobectomy can relieve symptoms.
- Shunt or catheter placement: Doctors put a tube in the pleural or peritoneal cavity so that fluid can continually drain from the area. This eliminates the need to do repeat surgeries to remove the buildup of fluid.
The type of mesothelioma surgery depends on the stage and cell type you have. It also depends on the preferences of your mesothelioma specialist. Each specialist has his or her own area of expertise and may prefer one type of surgery over another.