Mesothelioma and other diseases of the lungs can necessitate the removal of the tumors associated with the disease. Often the only way to do this is with a pneumonectomy, which is the complete removal of the lung. While humans can survive with only one lung, this procedure is serious and physicians will only take this step if they are sure that it gives the patient the best chance for survival or will at least relieve some of the incapacitating symptoms that accompany mesothelioma.

While not as extensive as an extrapleural pneumonectomy, in which surrounding tissue is removed as well as the lung, a simple  pneumonectomy is not right for every patient with mesothelioma. If the cancer has already spread into other places in the body, doctors will not recommend a procedure like this. Before being considered for this surgery, the patient must also be relatively strong and healthy. Heart function in particular must be strong as well as the health of the other lung.

The Procedure

General anesthesia is used on the patient for a pneumonectomy. The surgery requires an incision that is seven to nine inches in length. After the incision is made, part of the rib may be taken out so that the lungs can be easily viewed. Doctors will collapse the lung to be removed and then any blood vessels that are attached, as well as the air tube (main bronchs) that goes into the cancerous lung, are clamped, cut, and tied off.

At this point, the lung is taken out through the incision. To ensure that no fluid leaks into the chest cavity, all of the tubes and vessels that were tied off are closely inspected. If the procedure is an extrapleural pneumonectomy, at the same time that the lung is removed, the pleural lining for the chest, diaphragm, and heart are also taken out.


For several days after the surgery, the patient’s breathing will be assisted by a respirator. Tubes for drainage will remove any fluid that may build up. Two weeks is the normal hospital stay duration for a pneumonectomy patient.

It can take as long as two or three months to fully recover from this surgery. Risks associated with this procedure include heart attack, pneumonia, bleeding, and infection. According to studies, out of every 100 patients who go through a pneumonectomy, between five and nine of them pass away shortly after the procedure. However, if the surgery is a success, the patient’s quality of life will often be greatly improved and months can be added to their life.