Mesothelioma Treatment

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Doctors put mesothelioma patients on targeted and tailored treatment plans. Mesothelioma patients may undergo surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy or a combination of all three to aggressively target, shrink and remove tumors.

Mesothelioma Treatments Overview

While there is no one cure for mesothelioma, excellent curative or life-extending treatments are available for patients at every stage. New therapies being tested in clinical trial settings also offer valuable, potentially life-saving options for many mesothelioma patients.

How Do Mesothelioma Treatments Work?

Here’s an overview of what mesothelioma patients should know about their treatment options:

  • Standard treatment options are surgery, chemotherapy and radiation therapy
  • Doctors tailor treatments to each unique case—there is no one-size-fits-all plan
  • All patients have treatment options no matter their condition
  • Many treatments can significantly improve prognosis and extend life
  • Patients receive treatment at cancer centers from a team of specialized physicians

Mesothelioma treatments work from several approaches. However, the primary goal of most treatment plans is to prevent the growth and spread of mesothelioma cells. Doctors are mainly focused on stopping mesothelioma from spreading to reduce the chance of it advancing into the late stages. Having this as the primary goal allows mesothelioma patients to improve their quality of life and even extend their life expectancy.

Here are the primary ways that mesothelioma treatments:

  • Removing tumors from the abdomen, lungs or heart
  • Shrinking the size of tumors
  • Killing cancer cells to prevent them from multiplying
  • Preventing tumors from spreading to the lymph nodes (the immune system’s filters)
  • Reducing abdominal and chest pressure
  • Alleviating painful symptoms and improving comfort levels (palliative)

How treatments work depends on the particular mesothelioma case. End-stage mesothelioma treatments are palliative-focused, meaning finding ways to make the patient comfortable and as pain-free as possible.

In earlier stages, mesothelioma treatments are often aggressive and require surgery to cut into the affected area and remove the tumor. These treatments are often followed up with chemotherapy or radiation to kill off any remaining cancer cells that were missed during surgery.

What Can I Expect During Treatment?

Most importantly, mesothelioma patients can expect to be treated by a top mesothelioma specialist. Patients will travel to any one of the several specialized mesothelioma cancer centers located throughout the country. At the cancer center, a team of professionals will review the individual patient’s case and place them on a tailored treatment plan.

Mesothelioma patients can expect to be well taken care of at these premier cancer centers. Patients are often treated by entire teams of physicians including an oncologist, who specializes in chest or abdominal cancers. Cancer treatment teams might also include a pathologist, a radiologist and other specialists with expertise in treating mesothelioma.

Depending on the type of treatment, mesothelioma patients should be prepared to receive treatment at the cancer center for several weeks. Surgical procedures require time for preparation and recovery. Chemotherapy requires consistent and regular visits over the course of several weeks.

Most cancer centers also have incredible support resources for the highest quality patient care and experience. The compassionate professionals at these centers make patient care a priority. They explain in detail what patients can expect from their treatment plan, including potential side effects and reactions. They’ll also go over what to expect during recovery and assist in making the recovery process comfortable and successful.

Follow-Up Mesothelioma Care

Follow-up care is an essential aspect of mesothelioma treatment. Doctors are committed to monitoring their patients closely after successful treatments. Mesothelioma patients often experience recurrence, meaning their cancer comes back after treatment. By continuing to follow-up with their patients, doctors can take action right away if the cancer does return.

Today, many doctors treat mesothelioma cases like a chronic disease. After successful treatment through surgery, chemotherapy and/or radiation therapy, doctors remain focused on keeping the mesothelioma under control and managing their patient’s condition.

Living with cancer can be difficult and stressful for mesothelioma patients. However, by working with the nation’s top mesothelioma specialists, patients can rest assured that they’re receiving the best care possible for managing the disease and mitigating the risk of recurrence.

What Types of Mesothelioma Treatments Are Available?

Mesothelioma patients today have several important and life-saving options for treatments. With new therapies being tested in clinical trials, patients have access to cutting-edge mesothelioma treatments that can dramatically improve their prognosis.

Mesothelioma doctors recommend a combination of three standard mesothelioma treatments, depending on the case.

These three standard mesothelioma treatment options include:

  • Surgery: Targeted, specialized surgical procedures designed to remove mesothelioma tumors from the lungs, abdomen or heart.
  • Chemotherapy: High-potency anti-cancer drugs that circulate through the bloodstream, killing off mesothelioma cells.
  • Radiation Therapy: High-intensity energy rays aimed at mesothelioma tumors to shrink them in size.

Doctors often combine two or more of these options to provide the most well-rounded treatment plan. Aggressive treatments combining two or more approaches have proven to have the highest level of success in mesothelioma patients.

Pleural Mesothelioma Treatments

Pleural mesothelioma treatments typically involve aggressive surgical procedures, combined with multiple rounds of chemotherapy drugs. The goal of pleural mesothelioma treatment is to remove as much of the tumor from the lung lining and chest cavity as possible. Then, doctors administer chemotherapy to kill off mesothelioma cells that were left behind.

The two most aggressive and standard pleural mesothelioma surgical procedures are:

  • Extrapleural Pneumonectomy (EPP): Doctors remove the affected lung and the pleura lining around the chest. They may also remove part of the pericardium (heart lining) and diaphragm. Though this procedure involves the patient living with only one lung, it is considered one of the best solutions for minimizing the spread of mesothelioma and ultimately giving the patient a greater chance at survival.
  • Pleurectomy/Decortication (P/D): In contrast to the EPP procedure, pleurectomy with decortication is a lung-saving surgery. It involves removing the diseased pleura that lines the lungs and chest wall. Doctors who specialize in P/D procedures believe it is a better alternative to EPP because it allows the patient to keep their lung.

Peritoneal Mesothelioma Treatments

Peritoneal mesothelioma treatments range depending on how advanced the cancer is. Eligible patients undergo surgical procedures to remove tumors in the peritoneum (the abdominal lining) and surrounding tissues and organs. Removing as much of the tumor as possible gives the patient a greater chance at survival because it slows down or stops the spread (metastasis) of mesothelioma.

Peritoneal mesothelioma treatment often involves multiple phases of treatments. Doctors may begin by administering radiation therapy to shrink tumors in size. Then the patient undergoes surgery to remove the shrunken tumors. Treatment can then be concluded with further radiation or chemotherapy to kill of remaining cancer cells.

The most aggressive and effective peritoneal mesothelioma surgical procedure is cytoreduction with HIPEC. Cytoreduction is the process of debulking the abdominal cavity from tumors. Doctors then administer HIPEC (heated chemotherapy drugs) directly into the open abdominal cavity post-surgery. The drugs circulate through the abdomen, covering the organs in anti-cancer drugs until leftover cells have been killed.

Pericardial Mesothelioma Treatments

Pericardial mesothelioma is the most challenging form of mesothelioma to treat due to its proximity to the heart and the risk this poses. Most pericardial mesothelioma patients undergo chemotherapy, as this is the most effective form of treatment that presents the least health risks. Pericardial mesothelioma patients may also receive radiation therapy in conjunction with chemo to shrink tumors in the heart’s lining and surrounding areas.

In rare cases, doctors will perform a pericardiectomy, which is a surgical procedure that involves removing the lining of the heart (pericardium). The goal of this procedure is to alleviate heart pressure and inflammation that’s caused by the constriction of the diseased pericardium.

Deciding on Mesothelioma Treatments

Doctors ultimately determine which treatments are the best for each mesothelioma patient. They consider many factors when treating patients, as not all treatments work for all cases.

Here are some of the aspects doctors take into account when determining appropriate mesothelioma treatments:

  • Mesothelioma location
  • Mesothelioma stage
  • Patient’s age
  • Patient’s overall health level
  • Previous patient responses to treatments

How far the mesothelioma has advanced is one of the most important factors doctors consider when developing a treatment plan. Doctors usually consider patients with early stage mesothelioma to be excellent candidates for invasive surgery to remove tumors or even entire organs.

In some cases, even patients with end-stage mesothelioma can be good candidates for surgical procedures. However, the treatment goals and expected outcomes may be different.

Patient health is another one of the most critical factors doctors consider when developing a treatment plan. Healthy patients are better candidates for surgery than patients in poor health. Patients with poor health may not be able to withstand the side effects or possible complications involved with surgery, radiation or chemotherapy.

Personalized Treatment Plans

If you’ve been diagnosed with mesothelioma, ask your mesothelioma specialist and healthcare team about personalized treatments. It’s necessary to take an active role in your treatment decisions to ensure you’re being placed on a targeted care plan.

Treatments Are Unique

Treatments are not a one-size-fits-all solution. Instead, treatments must be highly personalized to each patient to ensure the most accurate approach and the highest chance of success. It’s vital for mesothelioma patients to work with doctors and healthcare teams that believe in personalized treatments. 

Mesothelioma specialists like Dr. Robert Cameron, Dr. David Sugarbaker, Dr. Anne Tsao and many others are all advocates and champions for specialized treatments tailored to each patient. Personalized treatment plans should always consider your mesothelioma location, stage and cell type.

They should also include multiple stages of treatment, including neoadjuvant and adjuvant treatments (treatments administered before and after surgery to shrink tumors and/or kill remaining cancer cells).

How Can I Manage My Mesothelioma Symptoms?

Symptom management is a huge part of living with mesothelioma. Pain caused by the effects of mesothelioma can often be uncomfortable and unbearable. It’s critical that patients communicate clearly with their doctors about the symptoms they’re experiencing.

The majority of patients do experience pain during their battle with mesothelioma. Chronic pain in the back and chest is common. It’s also normal for mesothelioma patients to lose their appetite and as a result, go through severe weight loss. All of these symptoms and complications should be addressed so that patients can improve their quality of life. Effective symptom management solutions for mesothelioma exist.

Though symptoms vary by mesothelioma location and stage and present differently in each person, general pain and symptom management treatments include:

  • Pain medications
  • Palliative surgery
  • Radiation
  • Physical therapy
  • Natural and complementary therapies

Doctors may prescribe pain management medications such as pain-killers or anti-inflammatory medications. Depending on the case, doctors may also recommend palliative surgical procedures to reduce swelling. Physical therapy is a gentle way to increase mobility. Patients may also undergo radiation as a form of pain management to help reduce the size of painful tumors.

An important aspect of symptom management is also emotional wellness. It’s common for patients to feel stressed and anxious during their battle against mesothelioma. Alternative therapies for stress reduction including acupuncture, massage therapy and holistic medicine have all shown to be great complementary medicines to other standard treatments.

What Are the New Mesothelioma Therapies?

Research into mesothelioma treatments is currently underway to find and develop new and cutting-edge therapies. While it is a lengthy process to have new therapies and drugs approved by government agencies, these treatments are made available to certain patients in clinical trial settings.

Mesothelioma researchers are currently developing the following types of experimental treatments:

  • Photodynamic Therapy: Drug therapy that increases cancer cell sensitivity to light.
  • Immunotherapy: A therapy that enhances the patient’s immune system to make them better equipped to fight mesothelioma.
  • Gene Therapy: A therapy designed to correct genetic mutations by supplying the patient with healthy genes.
  • Surgery for Mesothelioma After Radiation Therapy (SMART): An approach that uses radiation therapy before surgery.
  • Virotherapy: A therapy that uses viruses to attack mesothelioma cancer cells.

Many of these new therapies, drugs and treatment approaches have proven to be successful in clinical trial settings. Mesothelioma patients who participate in these clinical trials often see tremendous results that can greatly improve their prognosis.

Experimental therapies can give patients new hope. In some cases, patients may stop responding to treatments and feel as though they’ve exhausted their options. By participating in clinical trials, patients can have new opportunities to improve their prognosis and quality of life.

How Can I Participate in a Clinical Trial?

Many patients who are in the end stages of mesothelioma are good candidates for clinical trials. Patients who have stopped responding to treatments or are interested in novel therapies can register to participate.

Mesothelioma specialists often recommend clinical trials to their patients who are considered good candidates for the particular therapy. Patients can also ask their doctors about how to participate in a clinical trial. Doctors and cancer center staff help patients get connected with clinical trials seeking participants.

Clinical trials take place at cancer centers and medical schools across the country and around the world. To date, there have been over 250 mesothelioma clinical trials conducted globally. To participate in a clinical trial, patients need to travel to the trial location to undergo treatment. Clinical trials are safe, controlled environments led by scientists dedicated to finding the best possible mesothelioma treatment solutions.

Talk to your mesothelioma specialist today about participating in a clinical trial or for more information on new, emerging therapies and procedures.