General Surgeons & Treating Mesothelioma

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General surgeons oversee preoperative, operative and postoperative care for patients with many diseases, including rare cancers such as mesothelioma.

A general surgeon is a doctor with deep understanding of anatomy, physiology, metabolism, immunology, pathology, cancer, wound healing and intensive care.

Training for this medical specialty provides knowledge and practice diagnosing diseases and conditions. General surgeons receive training in team leadership and may oversee many aspects of medical care for each patient.

General surgeons are skilled in preoperative, operative and postoperative care, including surgical complications. They work with culturally diverse and vulnerable groups, and with patients lacking access to ongoing and coordinated health care.

What Type of Training Does a General Surgeon Have?

Training programs for general surgeons require a minimum of five years and include experience performing surgeries of the digestive tract, abdomen and related organs, breast and other soft tissues, head and neck, and vascular and endocrine systems.

General surgeons perform cancer-related surgeries and provide care related to trauma, critical illness, emergency medicine and burns.

After five or more years of training, a physician can take a test to become board certified in general surgery.

Why See a General Surgeon?

A general surgeon may be called in to consult on a surgical case in which the cause of symptoms is not well understood. This may include pleural and peritoneal mesothelioma.

Mesothelioma can lead to vague and confusing symptoms such as shortness of breath, pain and bloating. A general surgeon can perform the exploratory surgery that leads to a definitive diagnosis.

This is important because it allows your medical team to develop a comprehensive mesothelioma treatment plan. The sooner you begin treatment, the more likely you will have the best possible outcome.

Once you have received a diagnosis, a general surgeon can work with your oncologist and provide expert advice on surgical options for managing mesothelioma symptoms.

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What Does a General Surgeon Do?

Even for people who are not expected to be cured of mesothelioma, quality of life matters.

General surgeons possess the expertise and skills to help you manage symptoms as effectively as possible. They have training in pain management and understand how the disease may affect your ability to live your life.

For example, a general surgeon can perform minimally invasive — laparoscopic or endoscopy-guided — surgery to drain fluid from around your tumor, if you are an appropriate candidate for this type of operation.

This can minimize shortness of breath and pain.

How Do I Find a General Surgeon with Mesothelioma Experience?

If you have exposure to asbestos or your doctor suspects mesothelioma is a possibility, ask for a referral to a surgeon with mesothelioma experience.

If your symptoms suggest pleural mesothelioma, which affects the areas around the lungs and heart, you may be referred to a thoracic surgeon first.

A general surgeon can work with you and the rest of your health care team to create a mesothelioma care plan.

The right combination of medical team members, including a general surgeon, can help you achieve the best possible outcomes after a mesothelioma diagnosis.

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Registered Nurse and Patient Advocate

Karen Selby joined in 2009. She is a registered nurse with a background in oncology and thoracic surgery and was the regional director of a tissue bank before becoming a Patient Advocate at The Mesothelioma Center. Karen has assisted surgeons with thoracic surgeries such as lung resections, lung transplants, pneumonectomies, pleurectomies and wedge resections. She is also a member of the Academy of Oncology Nurse & Patient Navigators.

Walter Pacheco, Managing Editor at
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3 Cited Article Sources

  1. The American Society of General Surgeons. (n.d.). About Us.
    Retrieved from:
  2. The American Board of Surgery. (2017, February). Training and Certification. Specialty of General Surgery Defined.
    Retrieved from:
  3. American College of Surgeons. (n.d.). General Surgery. Retrieved from:

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Last Modified May 31, 2019

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