Mesothelioma Surgery

When a patient receives a mesothelioma diagnosis, one of the first discussions he or she has with their doctor or oncologist will likely involve treatment options. Because mesothelioma is generally diagnosed in its later stages, surgery may not be an option for many patients, though various treatments are available to combat the disease.

A variety of surgical procedures may be suggested in order to remove as much of the cancer as possible. Additionally, surgery may be recommended for palliative purposes, to keep the patient more comfortable and ease mesothelioma symptoms.

Surgical Options

The first kind of surgery a mesothelioma patient may face is a diagnostic surgical procedure. These are used to assist in making a definitive diagnosis or to better pinpoint where the cancer is located.

  • Biopsy – A biopsy is used to remove cells that are then tested for the presence of cancer. Mesothelioma patients may have one of two kinds of biopsies. A needle aspiration biopsy removes a small amount of tissue from the area where the cancer is suspected while the excisional biopsy removes as much tissue as possible in order to prevent the spread of the cancer.
  • Thoracentesis – Similar to a needle biopsy, this procedure involves the capturing of a small amount of fluid that has built up in the pleural area. Once removed, it can be tested for cancer. A local anesthetic is used and the test is generally preceded by an X-ray or MRI so the surgeon knows where to withdraw the fluid.
  • Thoracoscopy - During this procedure, an incision is made in the chest and a long, thin tube is inserted into the pleural spaces of the lungs, allowing the surgeon to examine the pleura. Samples of cancer cells are removed for further testing.

Curative surgeries for mesothelioma patients are performed with the hope of removing as much cancer as possible. These surgeries include:

  • Pneumonectomy – A very serious surgical procedure that involves a long recovery period, a pneumonectomy is the removal of the diseased lung. Candidates must be in overall good health and strong enough to withstand the surgery. Those who have mesothelioma in both lungs are not candidates for the surgery.
  • Extrapleural pneumonectomy – This procedure removes not only the diseased lung, but also the surrounding areas including the parietal pleura and the pericardium. It is a very invasive surgery and only suitable for a select number of patients.

Palliative surgeries are those that are performed in order to make the patient more comfortable while fighting the disease. Some are performed on an outpatient basis while others require hospitalization. These surgeries include:

  • Thoracentesis – Also used as a diagnostic tool, this procedure removes the fluid that builds up in the lungs of a mesothelioma patient, making it difficult and painful to breathe. The procedure is done with a long, thin needle that suctions out the fluid.
  • Paracentesis – This is like the thoracentesis procedure but is used to treat those who have peritoneal mesothelioma. It removes fluid from the abdominal area, which can cause pain and pressure.
  • Pleurodesis – Pleurodesis is a surgical procedure that introduces talc into the pleural spaces, causing inflammation and preventing the build-up of fluid in the area. The procedure can work for months or even years.


Undergoing surgery or participating in other treatment options may help improve a patient’s prognosis. For additional information about improving life expectancy, please fill out the complimentary packet request form on this page.