Surgery plays a key role in the treatment of mesothelioma and has substantially extended the survival rate of patients diagnosed with this rare disease. Despite the success surgery has had as a treatment for mesothelioma, patients often ask how going through a procedure will affect their quality of life. A chief concern voiced by most patients is how long recovery from mesothelioma surgery will take.
Recovery by Surgical Procedure
Extrapleural pneumonectomy (EPP): Patients are required to stay in the hospital for 2 weeks after the procedure. It can take an additional 8 weeks to fully recover. Physical therapy and walking are an important part of recovery.
Pleurectomy/decortication (P/D): Patients might return home in as little as a week with an additional 4 weeks of recovery time. Like the EPP, physical therapy is important.
Cytoreduction with HIPEC: Recovery varies with cytoreduction depending how extensive the cancer spread through the abdomen, but recovery time is usually at least 5 weeks. Patients typically have to remain in bed during the beginning of recovery.
For most major mesothelioma surgeries, in-hospital recovery can take up to 2 weeks. Recovery at home can take an additional 6 – 8 weeks.
Speaking with an experienced mesothelioma specialist can help patients understand how surgery will affect their quality of life and what exactly recovery from surgery entails.
Diagnostic Surgery Recovery
There are a number procedures used to diagnose mesothelioma that require surgery. Procedures like the thoracoscopy or laparotomy are an important part of the diagnostic process, as they provide tissue samples that can confirm a mesothelioma diagnosis. In-hospital recovery time for these diagnostic procedures ranges from 1 to 4 days.
After receiving diagnostic surgery, patients are taken to a recovery room where their patient care team gives them fluids and pain-relieving medication. During a thoracoscopy, the surgeon will insert a thin tube into the patient’s chest cavity to help drain excess fluid. The doctor or patient care team will usually remove the chest tube 1 to 2 days after the surgery.
Most diagnostic mesothelioma surgeries are performed under general anesthesia. Patients may experience side effects shortly after they wake up from the anesthesia. These side effects may include vomiting, nausea or disorientation. The attending physician or nurse will provide warm IV fluids to help combat dehydration caused by the anesthesia. Hydrating via IV also helps cut down on side effects, which speeds up recovery.
Recovering from a Pleurectomy with Decortication (P/D)
A pleurectomy with decortication (P/D) involves the removal of the lining of the lung (pleura) affected by mesothelioma. The surgeon also removes any visible tumors around the diseased lung during the procedure.
After the P/D, the patient’s care team will have them sit up in their bed and slowly walk around. Depending on the individual’s response to surgery, the care team may have the patient up and walking within one or two days. Light activity after a P/D helps cut down on recovery time by stimulating the digestive tract. Breathing exercises are also encouraged to help fully inflate the lungs, reducing the risk of post-surgery pneumonia.
Recovery at home may take up to 4 weeks. At-home recovery entails light walking and breathing exercises to help the patient ease into a normal level of movement.
Recovering from an Extrapleural Pneumonectomy (EPP)
The extrapleural pneumonectomy (EPP) is an extensive procedure during which the patient’s entire lung, the lining of the heart (pericardium) and the diaphragm are removed. Because the EPP is so invasive, an extensive amount of recovery time is required.
After having an EPP, patients are required to recover in-hospital for about 2 weeks. During this period the doctor and nurses monitor the patient’s vitals to ensure that no complications result from the surgery. Hospital staff make sure that the patient’s blood pressure, pulse and breathing are normal during the first few days following the procedure. Because an EPP requires the removal of the entire diseased lung, the patient is put on a respirator to help transition into breathing with one lung.
Physical strengthening exercises play an important role during recovery from an EPP. Patients are required by their doctor to do light exercises on the first night after surgery. Sitting upright and swinging one’s legs off the side of the bed are encouraged to help patients slowly build up their strength.
After the 2 week in-hospital stay, recovery will continue at the patient’s home for 8 more weeks. The patient’s care team will encourage plenty of light walking and breathing exercises. These exercises play a very important role in helping a patient get used to breathing with one lung.
Recovering from Cytoreduction
Specialists use cytoreductive surgery to remove parts of the lining of the abdomen (peritoneum) affected by mesothelioma and any visible tumors. Cytoreductive surgery requires a longer recovery time than a P/D or EPP because the procedure can have a substantial effect on the patient’s digestive system and nearby organs.
In-hospital recovery can take about 2 weeks, during which time the patient is given fluids and pain medication. The majority or recovery time is spent at home and can last up to 3 weeks.
At home, patients are required to take vitamins, medication and food intravenously (via IV). This helps take the strain off the digestive system until it becomes strong enough to continue working normally (in about 3 weeks).
Next Steps After Recovery
Mesothelioma surgery can have an enormously positive impact on patients diagnosed with the rare disease. Understandably, many patients are concerned over the impact surgery will have on their quality of life. An experienced mesothelioma specialist can help you determine if surgery is the right option. They can also discuss with you in detail how having surgery will impact your quality of life.