Mesothelioma is a rare and incurable form of cancer caused by exposure to asbestos. As it’s a slow-spreading cancer, it is usually discovered at the later stages, and by then it would already have metastasized to some extent.
This makes complete removal of the tumor impossible or unfeasible, which is why other forms of treatment are recommended instead.
As mentioned, removing the entire tumor is usually not feasible. Instead, surgery in cases of mesothelioma usually focus on alleviating the patient’s pain and discomfort, or lessening the severity of the symptoms caused by the cancer.
Pleural Effusion and Thoracentesis
One major symptom that comes with the later stages mesothelioma is pleural effusion, which is a buildup of fluid. What happens is that excess fluid accumulates in the pleural cavity, impairing breathing as lung capacity is blocked by the fluid during inhalation.
To treat pleural effusion, thoracentesis is a kind of outpatient surgery that’s performed by inserting either a needle or plastic catheter into the pleural space, in order to draw out the excess fluid.
This helps the patient to breathe easier, as the pressure in their chest and lungs is relieved. Although it may be uncomfortable during the thoracentesis procedure, it is a relatively quick and painless outpatient procedure that can be done multiple times.
To determine the best spot to insert the needle or catheter, the doctor may do an X-Ray or ultrasound before performing the thoracentesis.
An alternative procedure to thoracentesis, pleurodesis, is a process to inject talc or other certain medications, into the chest cavity. The talc or drugs act to create scar tissue, which effectively seals together the outer lining of the lung and the chest wall.
This helps to get rid of any space in which the pleural fluid could collect and cause a buildup. As with thoracentesis, pleurodesis can be done multiple times, although there is some indication that repeatedly performing the procedure may actually cause fluid to return to the space.
Most patients, however, find that the benefits of pleurodesis outweigh the costs of this procedure.
Effusion in other areas
Buildup of fluids in the body, or effusion, can also take place in other areas of the body. Effusion in these other areas are a symptom of the rarer forms of mesothelioma, called peritoneal and pericardial.
Peritoneal mesothelioma is where fluid builds up in the abdominal area, and can be removed by a procedure called paracentesis. As for pericardial mesothelioma, fluid builds up in the pericardium – the membranous sac around the heart – and can also be removed via fine needle aspiration.
If the tumor has grown beyond the mesothelium and causes pain and discomfort to other areas of the body, palliative surgery may also be an option.
This surgery is performed with the understanding that it would not be for the objective of completely removing the tumor or eradicating the cancer, but oncologists may still decide to remove some of the tumor in order to alleviate the pain.
While such surgery does not increase a patient’s survival time, it can still help to improve the patient’s quality of life and make them more comfortable.
It’s also possible to perform palliative surgery to remove part of the tumor in cases where the patient is too ill for more invasive surgery, such as an extra pleural pneumonectomy.
Traditional and holistic approaches
On top of these palliative surgery procedures, there are other therapies and treatments that would help to alleviate pain and manage other symptoms for the mesothelioma patient.
Traditional methods such as chemotherapy and radiation are targeted and may be used to shrink the tumors and make the patient more comfortable.
But there are also many other mesothelioma sufferers who find relief and comfort through holistic approaches such as supplements, acupuncture, massage, hypnosis and other forms of treatment.
The pain and discomfort of mesothelioma can be managed through proper palliative care and surgery. These methods, as well as traditional and holistic approaches, go a long way in making sure the patient’s quality of life is as high as possible.