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Mesothelioma Patients Want More Life And Need Both Lungs

Today’s stage took the riders over a number of “killer” climbs in the Sierra Mountains, including four separate battles for King of the Mountain points. No doubt, this stage was a proverbial "lung buster”!

Every athlete knows what it’s like to push yourself so hard that you "run out of gas" and "can't breathe." Can you imagine what it would be like if performing life’s menial tasks, such as getting out of bed in the morning or walking up a single flight of stairs, produced the same effect? This is what it’s like for thousands of victims of the asbestos cancer who have had one of their lungs surgically removed.

For many years, this was the only choice for mesothelioma patients. Mesothelioma is an asbestos-related tumor that surrounds and squeezes the lung. It is thought to be incurable. Treatment options are few, as too much time and money has been wasted on fighting over blame, and precious little has been invested in medical research.

Mesothelioma patients were told that the only aggressive option they had was a radical surgery known as extra-pleural pneumonectomy or “EPP", a big operation in which the surgeon amputates the tumor along with the lung, lung linings, diaphragm and portions of the heart sack. The average survival time following EPP, radiation and chemotherapy is anywhere from 16 to 18 months.

The problem is that in many cases, especially where the disease is in its early stages, the tumor has not invaded the lung. As a result, the lung, absent the tumor rind compressing against it, would continue to ventilate, transfer oxygen to blood and do all the wonderful things a lung is supposed to do. Moreover, mesothelioma is an insidious tumor which can rapidly recur. For patients who undergo EPP, it can and often does return to the empty lung chamber (even the best surgeon can’t remove 100% of the cancer cells) or to the healthy lung on the opposite side of the chest. So, for example, if a patient has his left lung removed, but the tumor returns in his right lung linings, his fate would be sealed.

This raises the question: Can't the doctor simply remove the tumor from the linings of the affected lung and spare the otherwise healthy lung? The answer from a growing number of thoracic surgeons today is: Yes!

Through a procedure known as pleurectomy/decortication or “PD”, the surgeon meticulously cuts, burns and strips the tumor off of the lung while leaving the otherwise healthy lung intact. It takes longer, but the hard work pays off. The median survival time for patients undergoing PD is slightly longer than patients undergoing EPP (19-21 months). Furthermore, the recovery is much faster and the surgical mortality is dramatically less.

Fortunately, one of the world’s top thoracic surgeons, Dr. Robert Cameron, is located here in California. Dr. Cameron has been performing the PD with painstaking attention to detail for decades, long before it became recognized as more rational and humane than the EPP. How do I know he's meticulous? I've actually watched him in action in the O.R. on four occasions. While the radical EPP takes about 3 to 4 hours to perform, the lung sparing PD takes twice as long.

Dr. Cameron is the director of the mesothelioma program at UCLA Medical Center and chief of thoracic surgery at the Wadsworth VA Hospital in Los Angeles. Dr. Cameron is also the executive medical director of the Punch Worthington Research Laboratory as a part of the Pacific Heart, Lung & Blood Institute. Yes, I am so impressed with Dr. Cameron's skills that I recommended him to my own father, Punch Worthington, who himself was diagnosed with an asbestos-related lung tumor.


Dr. Robert Cameron (c) performing a PD at the UCLA Medical School. Roger Worthington, Esq. (r) observing.

I'll never forget the first time I witnessed Dr. Cameron in action. He had spent 10 hours with his hands in my client's chest. He stripped the tumor off the chest wall, then burned it from the diaphragm, then separated it from the heart, and then burned it off the lung. Not once did he take a bathroom break or grab a bite to eat. He never left his patient. At the very end of the operation, when all visible tumor had been removed, he ventilated the tumor-liberated lung, and it sprung to life. Like a humble sculptor who had just created a masterpiece, Dr. Cameron invited me to gaze at his work. "Why," he asked, shaking his head, "would anyone want to throw away a perfectly healthy lung?"

So, today, we honor the doctors who sacrifice comfort, time and money in order to give cancer patients more lungs, and more life.

Race hard, take deep, cleansing breaths, break some legs, and bust some lungs!

Roger Worthington, PC is proud to be a co-sponsor of Team OUCH who believes in "going for the gold and giving something back!" Roger Worthington, PC has donated over $2.5 million to the Mesothelioma Applied Research Foundation, the Punch Worthington Research Lab, the International Mesothelioma Interest Group (and presented at the 2008 conference), and the Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization.

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