The pleurectomy with decortication is a popular treatment for pleural mesothelioma that strips the lining of the lungs where mesothelioma grows. It’s mostly for early-stage patients but is also used in some stage 3 or 4 patients if the circumstances allow.
The Lung-Sparing Mesothelioma Surgery
The pleurectomy with decortication is often called the alternative to the lung-removing EPP. But the P/D is a surgery that stands on its own in terms of survival benefits. The survival times of people getting EPP and P/D are comparable. Most people increase their survival time by a year or more after these surgeries.
“P/D involves opening the chest and removing all visible tumors,” says Dr. Robert Cameron. “Instead of removing the lung, you carefully separate the tumor from the healthy lung. This can be done very completely so it provides just as much tumor clearance as taking out the lung in an EPP.”
Creation of the P/D
Dr. Robert Cameron perfected the modern P/D. He works at the Pacific Meso Center in California and believes P/D is as good as any other procedure. He points out the survival times as proof that P/D is effective. Patients who have a P/D seem to live a better quality of life over a longer period of time than ever before.
You can discuss this procedure and other available options with a specialist. A mesothelioma doctor can inform you about the pros and cons of surgery that apply to your diagnosis.
Dr. Robert Cameron treats veterans through the Los Angeles VA. He is one of the top mesothelioma surgeons in the world. No matter where you live, veterans with benefits can receive treatment at the Los Angeles VA. It’s one of the only VA centers with a team dedicated to treating mesothelioma. Learn more about the different types of mesothelioma treatments and surgeries in your free Mesothelioma Veterans Guide.
Surgical Steps of the P/D
This is a lung-sparing procedure. A surgeon removes the lining of the lung but doesn’t remove the lung itself. Unlike the EPP, surgeons don’t remove the diaphragm or pericardium. The surgery lasts about 5 hours.
Those who have this procedure need to be in fairly good health to tolerate it. Doctors do lung function and cardiac stress tests to make sure the lungs and heart are healthy enough for surgery.
Historically, patients underwent pleurectomy without decortication. Doctors used it as a palliative surgery meant only to keep the patient more comfortable. With the addition of the decortication, many people have extended their survival time.
The pleurectomy with is a two-step procedure:
- Pleurectomy. Surgeons open the chest cavity. Pleural mesothelioma begins on and in the lining of the lung, which is removed during a P/D.
- Decortication. Surgeons remove any tumor masses visible inside the lung space. They also remove tumors from the fatty areas between the lobes of the lung. If tumors are visible on the diaphragm or pericardium, they are also removed.
There are likely to be mesothelioma cells that aren’t visible to the surgeon. Chemotherapy and radiation can help remove any cancer cells remaining after surgery. Pleurectomy with decortication typically does not cure mesothelioma. However, it may lead to long-term survival or disease remission. Because the lung is spared, people who have this procedure often recover faster than patients who have an EPP.
Pleurectomy with decortication may be an option for older patients and late-stage patients. Studies suggest that older patients can tolerate this surgery better than the EPP, and for late-stage patients, doctors are experimenting with intraoperative procedures. One intraoperative method uses strong beams of light to kill mesothelioma in the chest. The light is placed in the chest during surgery. In one study, patients in stage 3 and 4 had a median survival of 3 years after this treatment.
Recovery from Surgery
After the procedure, the patient can still have blood loss and a buildup of fluid around the lungs. A chest tube is placed to drain the excess blood and fluid out of the surgical space for a few days. Doctors remove the chest tube when there is no more drainage from this area. Patients practice deep breathing exercises after surgery. This helps expand the lungs and prevent pneumonia.
People who have a P/D still need several weeks to recover after leaving the hospital—shorter than the time required to heal from the EPP. Specialists feel the shorter recovery time gives patients a better quality of life following surgery. Often people have chemotherapy or radiation after the surgery, which further extends the life expectancy of patients in all stages of mesothelioma.
More than 90% of people who undergo the P/D experience a decrease in symptoms after having the procedure. The mortality rate of this procedure in the days following surgery is about 1-2%, with the biggest complication being a pneumothorax (air leak in the lungs). Bleeding and infection can also occur.
The median survival of patients who receive the P/D is about 20 months. This means that half of all people live less than 20 months and half live longer.
Patients live even longer if chemotherapy and radiation are done along with surgery—a multimodal approach. Many cancer cells are left over after surgery, and additional treatments can help get rid of them. Radiation to the original site of mesothelioma, for example, can prevent a recurrence (when the mesothelioma comes back).
In one study done in 2009, people who had all 3 forms of therapy had a median survival rate of around 30 months. That’s 10 months longer than the average for P/D surgery alone.
Getting a P/D
The pleurectomy with decortication is one of the best treatments for pleural mesothelioma. In recent decades, this procedure has improved significantly. There are reports of patients living up to 7 years after having P/D along with radiation or chemotherapy.
Things to remember about the P/D:
- Best for patients in earlier stages.
- Some late stage patients are eligible for P/D.
- P/D extends survival time, sometimes by years.
Patients who have a P/D live longer than those who don’t undergo surgery. If you think this treatment is right for you, talk to your surgeon today. If you are still looking for a specialist, we can help. Read about the top doctors now.