Treatment Options for Mesothelioma
Mesothelioma is a type of cancer that is strongly linked to asbestos exposure. It is aggressive, quick-spreading, and difficult to diagnose. Mesothelioma treatment options are similar to those for other types of cancers, but unfortunately for many people with this rare cancer the diagnosis comes during a later stage of the disease and treatment choices are limited. How mesothelioma will be treated largely depends on the cancer’s stage, but also on the patient’s overall health and wishes.
As a treatment option for cancer, surgery is a desirable choice but not one that is right for every patient. Surgical resection is the removal of tumors from the body and has the potential to cure cancer or lead to long-term remission. Patients in stage I or II, or sometimes III mesothelioma may be good candidates for surgery, often combined with other treatments.
Patients who may not be good candidates for surgery are those with later-stage mesothelioma, in which the cancer has spread too far. It may be too difficult or risky to remove any significant proportion of cancer cells. A radical type of surgery used to treat some mesothelioma patients is called extrapleural pneumonectomy and involves removing an entire lung along with other tissue from the chest cavity. It is difficult and risky, but it also has the potential to result in remission.
Almost all patients with mesothelioma receive chemotherapy, either alone or before or after other treatments. Chemicals that kill fast-growing cells, like cancer cells, are injected into a vein and then circulate through the body. They target cancer cells and cause them to die, but these chemicals also target many healthy cells. As a result, side effects of chemotherapy can be very uncomfortable and include nausea, hair loss, and pain.
Patients with peritoneal mesothelioma, a cancer of the lining of the abdomen, may benefit from a special type of chemotherapy. Heated chemotherapy drugs are pumped into the abdominal cavity to kill any cancer cells that remained after surgery to remove tumors.
Radiation therapy uses high-energy beams, often X-rays, to kill cancer cells. A beam of radiation is targeted at the tumor from outside the body in most cases. Radiation can also be applied internally, using catheters or other devices to more directly target the cancer cells. For mesothelioma radiation therapy can be used to kill any remaining cancer cells after surgery has been performed. It can also be used as a palliative treatment, reducing tumors to help manage symptoms for patients who are considered terminal.
New Treatments and Clinical Trials
Researchers are always working on new and better treatments to give mesothelioma patients better chances of survival or to extend life expectancy. Targeted therapies, for instance, are being developed and used in some patients to target cancer cells specifically, avoiding healthy cells. This is an improvement on chemotherapy drugs, which are non-specific.
Patients with mesothelioma may also seek out clinical trials in which to participate. These are medical studies testing new treatments and medications that accept patients who qualify to receive the experimental procedures. Clinical trials for mesothelioma are testing immunotherapies, drugs that use the body’s own immune system to fight cancer cells. They are also testing gene therapies, strategies that change the genetics of cancer cells to destroy them or slow their growth.
Mesothelioma is an aggressive cancer that is difficult to treat. There are several standard treatments used most commonly, like chemotherapy and radiation, but researchers are also hard at work developing those that will work better and hopefully produce fewer side effects, giving mesothelioma patients more hope.