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Mesothelioma Surgery

Pleural mesothelioma surgeries include pleurectomy and decortication(P/D), which removes all cancer tissue around the lung, and extrapleural pneumonectomy (EPP), which removes the lung as well. Surgeries to reduce pleural mesothelioma symptoms include thoracentesis and pleurodesis.

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Choosing the Best Pleural Mesothelioma Surgery

The best pleural mesothelioma surgery depends on a patient’s overall health and how far the cancer has spread. For eligible patients, major tumor-removing surgery provides the best chance of long-term survival. Other patients can benefit from minor procedures that relieve symptoms.

Pleural mesothelioma surgery is usually combined with other treatments such as chemotherapy or radiation therapy. There is no cure for pleural mesothelioma, but treatment plans including surgery have helped many survivors outlive their original prognosis by years.

You must decide with your doctor if surgery is right for you. Different types of surgery are appropriate for different patients.


Surgeries used in pleural mesothelioma treatment typically fall into three categories:


Dr. Farid Gharagozloo explains why very few mesothelioma patients benefit from major surgery.

Diagnostic Surgeries for Mesothelioma

Diagnostic surgery is used to confirm the presence of pleural mesothelioma cancer. It is the most basic type of surgery and often takes the form of a biopsy, which removes a sample of tissue from the body.

Surgeries for Mesothelioma Pain and Breathing Difficulty

Palliative surgery treats pleural mesothelioma symptoms, giving the patient better quality of life.

Two of the worst symptoms of advanced pleural mesothelioma are pain and breathing difficulty caused by fluid buildup around the lungs. Surgeons can ease this problem through a minor surgical procedure.

Thoracentesis

A thoracentesis (also known as a pleurocentesis or pleural tap) uses a long, thin needle to drain fluid buildup from the pleural space. It can be done in a doctor’s office with a local anesthetic. Patients usually return home an hour or two after the procedure.

To treat recurring fluid buildup, a doctor can also insert an indwelling catheter attached to a plastic bag, which allows continuous drainage when the patient is at home.

Pleurodesis

A pleurodesis drains fluid buildup and then seals the pleural space to prevent future buildup. It is performed under general anesthesia and requires a brief hospital stay. According to the American Cancer Society, about 90 percent of patients receive some relief after a pleurodesis.

Surgeries for Removing Mesothelioma Tumors

There are two major tumor-removing surgery options for pleural mesothelioma: Extrapleural pneumonectomy and pleurectomy and decortication. Both procedures are extensive and require an experienced mesothelioma doctor.

Extrapleural Pneumonectomy

An extrapleural pneumonectomy, or EPP, removes an entire lung, the lining around the lung and parts of the diaphragm. This permanently reduces the patient’s stamina, but patients can live a long time with only one lung if they adjust their lifestyle.

This surgery is extremely invasive and comes with significant risks of complications. Recovery usually takes several months.

Pleurectomy and Decortication

A pleurectomy and decortication — also known as P/D and lung-sparing surgery — removes the pleural lining surrounding the lung and all visible tumors on the lung and chest wall. Because it leaves both lungs intact, it comes with lower risks of complications and a shorter recovery period than an extrapleural pneumonectomy.

However, a pleurectomy and decortication will not be an option if cancer has spread into the patient’s lung.

EPP vs. P/D

Pleural mesothelioma surgeons debate the pros and cons of each type of surgery. Some surgeons prefer the pleurectomy and decortication because it puts patients at less risk. Other surgeons maintain that an extrapleural pneumonectomy eliminates more cancer cells from the body.

Many specialists conduct both procedures, and they will not make the final decision until surgery has begun and they see exactly how far mesothelioma tumors have spread.

In 2018, doctors from Mount Sinai Hospital reported in the Journal of Surgical Oncology that patients who undergo extrapleural pneumonectomy are twice as likely to die within 30 days or experience serious complications, compared to patients who undergo a pleurectomy and decortication.

That same year, though, the European Journal of Cardio-Thoracic Surgery published a study from Belgium arguing that an extrapleural pneumonectomy can significantly extend survival, as long as patients are carefully selected.

In 2019, Japanese doctors weighed in with an article in Seminars in Thoracic and Cardiovascular Surgery. According to their treatment record, less-invasive procedures such as the pleurectomy and decortication can work just as well as an extrapleural pneumonectomy while decreasing the risk of complications.

Both procedures are usually combined with chemotherapy, but specialists also debate whether it is best to give chemotherapy before or after surgery.

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Advances in Pleural Mesothelioma Surgery

Specialists constantly investigate new surgical techniques and novel therapies that can be combined with pleural mesothelioma surgery as part of a multimodal treatment plan.

Robotic Surgery

In robotic surgery, the surgeon operates miniature robotic instruments by remote control and sees into the body through a tiny 3D camera.

This allows for more precise movements and a magnified view, which can significantly reduce blood loss during the procedure. Reduced blood loss means less stress on the remaining lung and a faster recovery.

The first robotic surgery to remove pleural mesothelioma tumors was performed by Dr. Farid Gharagozloo at the University of Arizona Cancer Center in 2013. In the years since, many pleural mesothelioma surgeons across the country have adopted robotic surgery techniques.

Photodynamic Therapy

Photodynamic therapy uses light energy to kill cancer cells. Before surgery, the patient receives a photosensitizer drug that accumulates in cancer cells. During surgery, the surgeon exposes the tumor-removal site to a special wavelength of light to kill any cancer cells still in the body.

In 2018, doctors at the Abramson Cancer Center reported on their success treating 10 late-stage pleural mesothelioma patients. They combined surgery, photodynamic therapy and proton therapy, a special type of radiation therapy. This treatment combination led to a median overall survival of 30.3 months.

Doctors and Cancer Centers

Across the U.S., there are specialized cancer centers where patients can receive expert evaluation and treatment from a pleural mesothelioma surgeon.

Top Doctors for Pleural Mesothelioma Surgery

Dr. Farid Gharagozloo

Dr. Farid Gharagozloo

  • Director of cardiothoracic surgery at Florida Hospital Celebration Health
  • First to use robotic surgery to perform an extrapleural pneumonectomy for mesothelioma.

Dr. Raja Flores

Dr. Raja Flores

  • Chief of thoracic surgery at Mount Sinai Hospital, New York
  • Leads Mount Sinai’s collaboration with the National Mesothelioma Virtual Bank.

Dr. Robert Cameron

Dr. Robert Cameron

  • Director of thoracic surgery at the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center, California
  • Pioneered development of lung-sparing surgery for early stage pleural mesothelioma.

Recovering from Mesothelioma Surgery

Tumor-removing surgery may require a hospital stay of two weeks or more. For the first few days after surgery, patients may need a respirator to breathe and chest tubes to drain fluid from the lungs.

After leaving the hospital, fully recovering from surgery may take a few months.

Getting lots of rest and sleep is essential to recovery. Make sure to eat well, because the body needs adequate protein and nutrients to repair wounds and cope with potential side effects of surgery.

Managing Pain After Surgery

The most common side effect of all surgeries is pain around the incision site. After invasive surgeries, patients may feel dull, tingling discomfort or more intense pain while moving around. Work with your surgeon and a palliative care doctor to ensure you are prescribed the right types of pain medication.

Other Surgery Side Effects

Talk to your medical team about how to prepare for the potential side effects of pleural mesothelioma surgery.

Respiratory failure, air leakage, blood clotting and internal bleeding are other rare complications that must be quickly treated in a hospital.


Snehal Smart, M.D.

Snehal Smart, M.D.

Snehal Smart is the Pleural Mesothelioma Center’s in-house medical doctor, serving as both an experienced Patient Advocate and an expert medical writer for the website. When she is not providing one-on-one assistance to patients, Dr. Snehal stays current on the latest medical research, reading peer-reviewed studies and interviewing oncologists to learn about advancements in diagnostic tools and cancer treatments.

Medically Reviewed By Dr. Joanne Getsy
Last Modified July 18, 2019

5 Cited Article Sources

  1. Hasegawa, S. et al. (2019, January). Surgical Risk and Survival Associated With Less Invasive Surgery for Malignant Pleural Mesothelioma. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/30639549
  2. Frick, A. et. al. (2018, December 6). Combined modality treatment for malignant pleural mesothelioma: a single-centre long-term survival analysis using extrapleural pneumonectomy. Retrieved from https://academic.oup.com/ejcts/advance-article-abstract/doi/10.1093/ejcts/ezy385/5232603?redirectedFrom=fulltext
  3. American Cancer Society. (2018, November 16). Surgery for malignant mesothelioma. Retrieved from https://www.cancer.org/cancer/malignant-mesothelioma/treating/surgery.html
  4. Rice, S. et. al. (2018, November). A Novel Prospective Study Assessing the Combination of Photodynamic Therapy and Proton Radiation Therapy: Safety and Outcomes When Treating Malignant Pleural Mesothelioma. Retrieved from https://www.researchgate.net/publication/329259834_A_Novel_Prospective_Study_Assessing_the_Combination_of_Photodynamic_Therapy_and_Proton_Radiation_Therapy_Safety_and_Outcomes_When_Treating_Malignant_Pleural_Mesothelioma
  5. Van Gerwen, M. et al. (2017, October 7). Short‐term outcomes of pleurectomy decortication and extrapleural pneumonectomy in mesothelioma. Retrieved from https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/pdf/10.1002/jso.25260

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