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Does surgery help patients with asbestos-related cancer?

Clare S Ryan9 February 2012

When the link between asbestos and lung disease, and a previously rare cancer called mesothelioma, was first recognised in the early 1980s, doctors quickly realised that they were going to see a dramatic increase in the number of cases over the coming decades.*

As doctors, they wanted to find the most effective treatment, and duly started implementing the therapy that they knew best – surgery in combination with chemotherapy.

However, in the recent Lunch Hour Lecture, ‘Cutting to cure cancer and ‘the limits set by nature’’, Professor Tom Treasure asked the uncomfortable question: is there any evidence that nearly 30 years of performing radical surgery has helped patients?

Professor Treasure, a cardiothoracic surgeon from UCL’s Clinical Operational Research Unit, started to answer this question by looking at patients whose primary cancer was in the lining of the lungs, known as ‘mesothelioma’.

An initial review of the existing literature describing outcomes of patients who had had surgery to remove mesothelioma tumors found very limited data, much of which was anecdotal.

On the basis of their literature review, Professor Treasure and colleagues from Guy’s and St Thomas’ Hospital decided to conduct a randomised control trial to assess the survival outcomes of patients who had had mesothelioma surgery, versus those who hadn’t.