New technique may improve extrapleural pneumonctomy outcomes

12 Dec 2016 by under Research/Treatment

upper body 944557 960 720 100x100 New technique may improve extrapleural pneumonctomy outcomesFor survivors like Heather Von St. James who have undergone an extrapleural pneumonctomy as treatment for their pleural mesothelioma, one day a year has a unique designation. Feb. 2 is St. James’ Lung Leavin’ Day. The name graphically illustrates the basic tenant of the medical procedure, which involves removing a lung and some of the tissues and diaphragm surrounding it in order to remove the cancer that affects the lining of the lung and chest cavity.

Now, thanks to a new Italian medical discovery, an innovative new surgical technique could reduce surgery complications and increase the number of survivors with their own Lung Leavin’ Days in the future.

A team of doctors performed the new surgical technique at a university hospital on a patient with early-state malignant pleural mesothelioma, Surviving Mesothelioma reports.

Mesothelioma is a form of cancer usually attributed to exposure and can affect the lining of the lungs, heart and/or stomach. Pleural mesothelioma specifically affects the lining of a patient’s lungs, and an extrapleural pneumonectomy targets that area by removing the tumors, entire pleural membrane, the nearest lung, lymph nodes, the diaphragm and the pericardium, a membrane surrounding the heart.

The highly invasive procedure originated in the 1940s as a treatment for lung infections and has since been adapted to treat “locally advanced malignant pleural mesothelioma, achieving substantial reductions in mortality,” according to a study in the Multimedia Manual of Cardio-Thoracic Surgery.

However, the surgery is accompanied by a 60 percent minor and major complication rate, the manual states. Because of the high complication rate, some doctors believe the risks outweigh the rewards, an issue this new technique hopes to address.

Instead of having to make a large incision along the chest, the new technique does not require having to spread apart patients’ ribs in order to expose the thoracic cavity.

“Our approach is unique and differed from the previously reported cases because we used one skin incision and two small intercostal incisions with videothoracoscopic viewing without rib spreading,” explains lead author Dr. Francesco Paolo Caronia with the Mediterranean Cancer Institute to Surviving Mesothelioma.

The surgery can be preceded or followed by chemotherapy and/or radiation, according to the news outlet; the patient who received this new form of surgery received three cycles of chemotherapy and also received radiation. He both survived the surgery and, 11 months later, his doctors report no recurrence of his cancer.

Von St. James established Lung Leavin’ Day initially as a way to not only commemorate her hopeful freedom from mesothelioma, but also to join with friends in acknowledging and vanquishing their fears – both related to the cancer and surrounding other issues in their lives. The event has grown into a fund raising event for mesothelioma research, treatment and awareness.

To learn more about Heather’s journey, check out her blog at

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