Mesothelioma Treatment by Stage
When someone receives a diagnosis of mesothelioma, their thoughts immediately turn to how they will cope with the disease, including what treatments will be available to them to help stop the disease from progressing and to make them more comfortable while suffering the often debilitating symptoms of this aggressive cancer.
For some, the treatments might seem as frightening as the disease itself, but patients should be assured that a responsible oncologist with a background in the disease will offer the best options possible while trying to assist the patient in maintaining a decent quality of life.
It's important to locate an oncologist with whom the patient is comfortable and it's also essential that the patient have a say in his or her mesothelioma treatment regimen. No one should make these decisions for them! Mesothelioma victims should not hesitate to ask questions about the treatments and should weigh the pros and cons before deciding to begin a specific treatment.
Which treatments are recommended will usually depend on the stage on the cancer. Mesothelioma, like all cancers, is measured in 4 stages and each is treated a bit differently. Treatment options may also hinge on the patient's overall health, the location of the cancer, and the age of the victim.
Because mesothelioma has such a long latency period, Stage I mesothelioma is rare, but when it is diagnosed, it is often referred to as "localized" malignant mesothelioma. Possible treatment for those with Stage I mesothelioma includes:
This is a surgery that is ONLY offered to those in the early stages of the disease who are in otherwise good physical health. The cancer must not have spread to any other major parts of the body, including the lymph nodes. During this surgery, the affected lung will be removed as well as the pleura (lining of the lung), the diaphragm, and the pericardium (covering of the heart). This is major surgery, necessitating a 2-week or so hospital stay and a 2-month recovery period. It carries about a 6% mortality rate. Patients should understand that this is not a curative surgery but can extend their life significantly. Radiation or chemotherapy may be offered along with the surgery.
Also a surgery, this procedure removes the pleura and the tissue surrounding it. It requires an approximate 7-day hospital stay and a recovery period of about 2-3 weeks, barring any complications. A pleurectomy is performed only to relieve symptoms, not as a cure.
For those who are not candidates for surgery, radiation will be offered to help control the uncomfortable symptoms of the disease.
A wealth of clinical trials are available to those suffering from mesothelioma. These involve the use of volunteers who are stricken with the disease who will, in turn, test experimental drugs or procedures that are not yet approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Many volunteers have benefited greatly from participation in clinical trials. Ask your doctor if there are any available for which you fit the criteria.
Stage II or III
When a patient is diagnosed with Stage II or III mesothelioma, treatments offered are purely palliative in nature, designed to help ease the symptoms of the disease. Possible treatment options may include:
Thoracentesis (lungs) or paracentesis (abdomen):
These procedures remove the fluid that has accumulated around the lungs or, in the case of peritoneal mesothelioma, the abdomen. The retention of fluid is a common symptom of mesothelioma. These procedures can be done on an outpatient basis but may require a short hospital stay (possibly overnight) if the patient is high risk.
Traditional radiation or chemotherapy:
Either of these procedures is used to reduce symptoms of mesothelioma, such as chest pain or breathing difficulty.
This is a form of radiation therapy that involves implanting small radioactive rods into the tumor or the area around the tumor in hopes of killing cancer cells in that specific area. As the patient may be "radioactive" after the insertion of the rods, a hospital stay may be required and visitors may be limited.
When mesothelioma has reached Stage IV or "end-stage", it has spread greatly throughout the body and treatment efforts are concentrated on keeping the patient as comfortable as possible. All treatments at this point should be considered carefully. Once a patient has reached Stage IV, little can be done to prolong life, so if a treatment is going to cause additional pain or distress, meso victims and their families may opt not to proceed with that particular treatment.
Chemotherapy or radiation:
Goals for these treatments should be clearly defined so that the patient is not subject to furthering suffering through the use of treatments that may cause serious side affects.
Many Stage IV patients and their families describe the pain at this point as unbearable. Don't hesitate to ask for additional pain medications, if needed.
Often, those at this stage of the disease enter hospice care as their families are no longer able to care for them nor can they care for themselves. Hospice facilities also offer end-of-life emotional support for the patient's family and friends.
In addition to all the treatment options above, doctors may suggest psychotherapy or counseling to help patients and their families deal with the diagnosis of mesothelioma and the impending outcome of the disease.
- American Cancer Society. Detailed Guide: Malignant Mesothelioma, Chemotherapy http://www.cancer.org/docroot/CRI/content/CRI_2_4_4X_Chemotherapy_29.asp?rnav=cri
- American Cancer Society. Detailed Guide: Malignant Mesothelioma, Radiation Therapy http://www.cancer.org/docroot/CRI/content/CRI_2_4_4X_Radiation_Therapy_29.asp?rnav=cri
- American Cancer Society. Detailed Guide: Malignant Mesothelioma, Surgery http://www.cancer.org/docroot/CRI/content/CRI_2_4_4X_Surgery_29.asp?rnav=cri
Last modified: December 24, 2010.