Treatment for Mesothelioma

Once a patient has been diagnosed with malignant mesothelioma, important decisions need to be made, and they need to be made quickly. Depending upon their age, their overall health, the type of mesothelioma and mesothelioma cell type they have and the degree to which it has spread within their body, a course of treatment will need to be chosen.

In addition to the factors listed above, this decision will take into account whether the patient wishes to subject themselves to treatments that can weaken them and diminish the quality and their enjoyment of the time that they have left. Patients opting out of aggressive treatment are still likely to undergo the same types of treatments, but with a different goal: some choose to adopt a curative approach, which seeks to extend life for as long as possible, while others choose a palliative approach, whose goal is to allow the highest possible quality of life. These decisions are generally made in collaboration with the medical team, as well as with family and loved ones.

Mesothelioma Surgery

When a patient’s mesothelioma tumors have not grown too large or spread too far, surgery can be performed to try to remove all cancer cells and extend their life. If the cancer is widespread, surgery can be performed to cut down the size of the tumors with the goal of easing symptoms. There are a few different types of surgical procedures available, including:

  • Pleurodesis – Performed to decrease fluid buildup in the chest. In this procedure a tube or catheter is inserted into the affected area to drain fluid. In some cases a drying agent is also injected into the chest to prevent the fluid from returning.
  • Pleurectomy or Peritonectomy – These surgeries remove tissue from the affected area of the chest or abdomen respectively in order to relieve symptoms.
  • Debulking – This procedure has a goal of removing as much of the tumor as possible in order to relieve pain and fluid buildup. It can also be performed prior to radiation therapy in order to allow for more accurate direction.
  • Extrapleural Pneumonectomy or Pleurodectomy – These are more aggressive procedures that removes the affected lung or surrounding organs in patients diagnosed with pleural mesothelioma.

Chemotherapy for Mesothelioma

Chemotherapy is a medical use of chemicals that kill fast-dividing cells. Though their goal is to kill cancer cells, because they are delivered systemically they can also impact other types of fast-dividing cells, including hair cells and cells within the lining of the mouth and the intestines, leading to hair loss, ulcers in the mouth, nausea and other side effects. In treating mesothelioma, the most effective use of chemotherapy has come from a combination of two different chemotherapy drugs which has proven to effectively shrink mesothelioma tumors and slow their advance through the body. There is also a more direct way of using chemotherapy in the treatment of peritoneal mesothelioma. Known as HIPEC, or heated intraperitoneal chemotherapy, it is administered in combination with surgical removal of tumors.

Radiation Therapy for Mesothelioma

Radiation therapy uses high-dose radiation to kill cancer cells. Its use in mesothelioma is limited because it can harm organs such as the lungs and the heart, but it can sometimes be used in combination with surgery to alleviate symptoms.

In addition to these treatment options, which are often used in combination with one another, there are ongoing clinical trials exploring the use of novel treatment protocols, including immunotherapy.