Thoracoscopy and pleural biopsy

You might have this small operation to check for signs of pleural mesothelioma in your lungs. 

To do this your specialist doctor uses a flexible tube with a light and video camera attached. This is called a thoracoscope and is used to take samples (biopsies) from the tissues that cover your lung (pleura).

Why you might have it

This is often the only certain way of finding out what's wrong because mesothelioma can be difficult to diagnose. Other tests might not show whether you have mesothelioma or a different type of lung condition.

What happens

You might have this small operation under a general anaesthetic, or with a local anaesthetic and a medicine to make you drowsy (sedation).

Your doctor makes a small cut (incision) in the inside of your chest between 2 ribs. Then they put a flexible tube with a light and video camera attached (thoracoscope) into the hole. They might use a CT scan or ultrasound scan to position the thoracoscope accurately.

Using forceps, the doctor takes a small sample (biopsy) of the tissues that cover the lungs (the pleura). They usually take a sample from the outer layer of the pleura. This is called the parietal layer.

The sample is then sent to a laboratory for testing to see if there are any cancer cells.

After the test

You might feel some pain, so you are offered painkillers. Do tell the doctor if you have any pain, breathing problems or feel unwell afterwards. 

Getting your results

You should get your results within 1 or 2 weeks. The doctor may be able to let you know if they have seen any abnormal areas that have been sent to the laboratory.

Waiting for results can make you anxious. Ask your doctor or nurse how long it will take to get them.

Contact the doctor who arranged the test if you haven’t heard anything after a couple of weeks.

You might have contact details for a specialist nurse who you can contact for information if you need to. It can help to talk to a close friend or relative about how you feel.

For information and support, you can also call the Cancer Research UK nurses on freephone 0808 800 4040. The lines are open from 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday.
  • Malignant pleural mesothelioma: ESMO Clinical Practice Guidelines for diagnosis, treatment and follow-up

    P Baas and others on behalf of the ESMO Guidelines Committee

    Annals of Oncology 26 (Supplement 5): v31–v39, 2015

  • The Royal Marsden Hospital Manual of Clinical Nursing Procedures (9th Edition)
    L Dougherty and S Lister
    Wiley-Black, 2015

Last reviewed: 
08 Jun 2021
Next review due: 
08 Jun 2024

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