Mesothelioma is a devastatingly aggressive cancer that can form in the epithelial cells lining the heart, lungs, abdomen, and testes. It is typically caused by asbestos exposure, although the tumors may not form until 10 to 20 years after the initial exposure. Also, because this cancer is difficult to detect, it may have spread too far for you to heal completely. Instead, you can rely on surgery to help extend your life in the face of this disease.
Although mesothelioma can form in many different areas of your body, it is most common in the lining of the lungs. This is because microscopic asbestos fibers can become lodged in your lung tissue if you accidentally inhale them. Frustratingly, the body cannot dissolve the fibers, instead forming dense tissue nodules around them. Asbestos is a known human carcinogen, so over time these nodules can turn into cancerous tumors.
First, one of the most common side effects of mesothelioma in the lungs, or pleural mesothelioma, is the buildup of fluid in the space around the lungs. This pressure can hinder you from taking full, deep breaths. Some noninvasive surgeries, such as pleurodesis or thoracentesis, involve placing a long, thin needle into the fluid-filled cavity and draining the liquid. While this can help you breathe easier for a while, the fluid can build up again and again.
Next, you can undergo conventional lung surgeries such as pneumonectomy, lobectomy, or wedge resection. With these surgeries, doctors remove either an entire lung, a lobe of the lung, or a piece of the lung, respectively. However, tumors from mesothelioma are often widespread, which may prevent doctors from getting all of the tumors with one of these surgeries.
Lastly, there are two new surgery options for mesothelioma patients in an attempt to remove all of the diseased tissue. With a pleurectomy, doctors remove the layer of cells that line the lungs, called the pleura. This is often done only as a palliative treatment rather than a way to completely eradicate your cancer.
Another radical surgery option is an extrapleural pneumonectomy. This process involves removing the epithelial cells, or lining, from the lungs as well as those of the heart and diaphragm. If the tumors have gone deeper into your lungs, doctors may remove these masses during the process as well. Additionally, they can replace the lining with synthetic materials. This surgery can be difficult for weak patients, but it can also dramatically extend your lifespan.
If you have been diagnosed with mesothelioma, it is important to understand all of your treatment options and their risks before you decide on a treatment plan.