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What to Know About Surgery for Malignant Mesothelioma

Doctor wearing a surgical mask looking at a chest X-ray

If malignant mesothelioma is in its early stage and hasn't spread, it may be possible to take the cancer out of your body with surgery. If the cancer is in your chest and is found very early, the doctor may only need to remove the lining where the cancer started along with nearby lymph nodes. If cancer has spread to one of your lungs, it may also be removed. Sometimes the surgeon must also remove part of the muscle that separates your chest from your abdomen (called the diaphragm), as well as the lining around your heart (called the pericardium). This is an involved operation that is done mainly at major medical centers.

Most people, though, don't know they have mesothelioma until it has spread. Then, it's considered advanced cancer. If people with advanced cancer have surgery, it is to ease the pain and discomfort caused by the tumor. If removing the tumor is not possible, your doctor may suggest these treatments to relieve pain and discomfort:

  • Thoracentesis involves placing a long, hollow needle through the skin to remove fluid from the chest.

  • Paracentesis involves placing a long, hollow needle through the skin to remove fluid from the abdomen.

After either procedure, your doctor may put drugs or other materials into your chest or stomach. This procedure, known as pleurodesis, will help stop fluid from building up again. Your doctor may place a catheter in your chest so you can drain the fluid by yourself at home while you are receiving other therapy. Ask your doctor if this catheter might help you. Before you have surgery, ask your doctor or nurse what its risks are. Also ask what you can expect after the surgery.

What to expect after surgery for malignant mesothelioma

After surgery, you may experience pain in the area operated on. Some discomfort is normal after surgery. It will not last for long and doctors can help you manage it with medication. Depending on what type of surgery you need, you may need therapy to help you get back to your normal routine.