Treatments for Mesothelioma

Treatment options for mesothelioma depend upon what stage the cancer has reached, whether it is resectable or unresectable, the patient's general health, and the patient's preferences. Resectable mesothelioma is often treated by surgery, while unresectable mesothelioma may be treated by chemotherapy, radiation therapy, immunotherapy, or palliative procedures. Pain management is also an important consideration.

The objective of surgery for mesothelioma may be to attempt to cure the patient or to alleviate pain and other debilitating symptoms. Curative surgery is an option when the patient is in general good health and there is a possibility that the cancer can be completely removed. However, sometimes surgery does not always remove all cancerous cells and they later proliferate again. Palliative surgery involves partial removal of affected areas to relieve symptoms of discomfort in patients. Side effects of surgery sometimes include infections, bleeding, blood clots, pneumonia, and loss of function in the lungs.

Chemotherapy involves the use of drugs that fight cancer. It is often used in combination with surgery. Sometimes chemotherapy is administered before surgery to attempt to shrink the tumor, and sometimes it is done afterwards to kill cancer cells that remain in the body post-surgery. When surgery is not an option, chemotherapy, or chemotherapy in combination with radiation therapy, is often the main treatment. Chemotherapy is usually administered in cycles, with rest periods between treatments so that the patient can recover. The drugs are either delivered into the bloodstream via a vein or directly to the site of the cancer through a catheter tube inserted into an incision in the chest or abdomen. Side effects of chemotherapy include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, loss of appetite, fatigue, hair loss, mouth sores, and increased risk of infections. Usually these conditions are temporary and go away after treatment.

Radiation therapy, which involves using high energy particles or x-rays to kill cancer cells, is not as effective with mesothelioma as with other forms of cancer because of the way the tumors grow and spread. However, it is sometimes used after surgery to kill cancer cells remaining in the body and in palliative procedures to relieve certain symptoms. Temporary side effects include fatigue, hair loss, and skin problems similar to sunburn. If it is used in the abdomen, patients may experience nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite, and diarrhea.

Other possible treatments for mesothelioma exist. For instance, immunotherapy utilizes drugs to stimulate the immune system so that it attacks cancer cells. Targeted therapy involves the use of different drugs than chemotherapy drugs to prevent tumors from forming new blood cells, use laboratory-made antibodies to kill cancer cells or prevent them from growing, or inhibit signals that cancer cells need to grow. If patients volunteer to take part in clinical trials, they may be the first to try new forms of treatment.

Finally, palliative procedures help to control mesothelioma or alleviate its symptoms. These may involve the use of surgery, chemotherapy, or radiation therapy, or a combination of these. Other methods of palliative therapy include the removal of excess fluids through the use of needles, chest tubes, or the placement of shunts or catheters.