Common treatments for mesothelioma include surgery, chemotherapy and radiation.
Multimodal therapy is a combination of mesothelioma treatments.
Emerging therapies may be an option if standard treatments are ineffective.
Palliative treatments help reduce symptoms of mesothelioma.
Mesothelioma treatment can improve survival and comfort for patients. Treatment often consists of a combination of surgery, chemotherapy and radiation. Researchers also continue to test promising emerging treatments through clinical trials.
Effective treatment options differ from patient to patient. A mesothelioma doctor can provide specialized care for your specific case. Although there is no cure for mesothelioma, researchers continue to study ways to improve survival.
Types of Treatment for Mesothelioma
Standard treatment options for mesothelioma patients include surgery, chemotherapy and radiation. With mesothelioma treatments, doctors aim to remove cancer and reduce symptoms. There currently is no cure for mesothelioma, but treatments can help extend survival.
Specialists may recommend multimodal treatment for any type of mesothelioma. These plans are a combination of several standard or emerging treatment options. For example, doctors often treat peritoneal mesothelioma with surgery and hyperthermic intraperitoneal chemotherapy (HIPEC).
There are several types of surgery options for mesothelioma cancer. Surgery options will depend on the type of mesothelioma because each type affects a different area of the body. Surgeries for mesothelioma may be administered to remove as much of the cancer as possible. Some patients may also have surgery to reduce symptoms.
Unfortunately, there is no mesothelioma treatment considered totally curative. However, many of these surgeries can drastically improve survival.
Surgery for mesothelioma patients can be therapeutic or palliative. Therapeutic surgeries are meant to improve a patient’s quality of life, extend life expectancy and return the patient to better health. Palliative surgeries may be able to relieve uncomfortable symptoms.
There are different surgical options for mesothelioma patients based on their individual case. Often, a patient’s eligibility is dictated by the type and location of their cancer. These locations include the lining of the lungs (pleura), lining of the heart (pericardium), lining of the abdominal cavity (peritoneum) and lining of the testicles (tunica vaginalis testis).
Therapeutic Surgery Options by Mesothelioma Location
Pleurectomy/decortication: Removes the lung lining and visible tumors
Extrapleural pneumonectomy (EPP): Removes the lung and surrounding tissue
Peritonectomy: Removes the abdominal lining
Cytoreductive/debulking: Removes any visible tumors
Pericardiectomy: Removes the lining of the heart
Orchiectomy: Removes one or both testicles and the spermatic cord
Surgeries are often combined with chemotherapy, radiation and/or emerging treatments.
Chemotherapy is a common treatment for mesothelioma. Chemotherapy targets quickly dividing cells, such as malignant mesothelioma cells. Chemotherapy drugs may be used alone or combined with other treatment options.
There are two types of chemotherapy used for mesothelioma patients:
- Systemic chemotherapy travels throughout the patient’s bloodstream. It is administered via IV (intravenously) or in pill form.
- Intracavitary chemotherapy targets the affected cavity of the body, such as the abdominal or thoracic cavity. Doctors often use chemotherapy washes as targeted therapy during surgery.
Chemotherapy is often combined with other treatments, such as surgery. Palliative care may also follow chemotherapy, in order to reduce side effects.
HIPEC (hyperthermic intraperitoneal chemotherapy) has demonstrated great success in treating peritoneal mesothelioma. HIPEC is a heated chemotherapy wash circulated throughout the abdominal cavity. Researchers continue to test other chemotherapy washes in clinical trials.
Patients should consult a doctor if they experience any chemotherapy-related symptoms.
Doctors may also recommend radiation for mesothelioma. Radiation works by damaging cancer cells. This can kill cancer cells and prevent them from multiplying. If left unaddressed, cancer cells can grow and spread.
Radiation may be used before or after surgery.
- Neoadjuvant radiation is administered before surgery. Surgery for Mesothelioma After Radiation Therapy (SMART) is an example. Doctors apply radiation about a week ahead of surgery. This can help confine the cells to one area before the surgeons remove the affected tissue.
- Adjuvant radiation is administered after surgery to kill any remaining cancer cells. When used after another treatment, radiation is a secondary treatment.
Palliative radiation can also be an option for stage 3 or stage 4 mesothelioma patients. This can help reduce tumor size and ease pressure on the lungs or abdomen. This can make it easier for patients to breathe and help with abdominal and chest pain.
For mesothelioma, doctors often recommend multimodal treatment plans. Multimodal therapy is a combination of multiple therapies.
Doctors may suggest a combination of traditional treatments, such as surgery followed by chemotherapy. However, doctors may also supplement traditional treatments with newer therapies. HIPEC and immunotherapy are examples of treatments that demonstrated success in published studies. They are now more widely available to mesothelioma patients in the United States.
Patients may also be eligible for experimental treatments. Doctors may recommend experimental treatments for patients whose cancer is unresponsive to traditional treatments.
Mesothelioma Palliative Care
Palliative treatment may be an option for patients with any stage of mesothelioma. Palliative care is used to reduce symptoms and provide patients with comfort. Unfortunately, palliative care may be the only option for patients with late-stage mesothelioma. It is also a common component for patients in early stages.
Palliative care may be the main course of treatment when patients have:
- Poor overall health: Patients with poor health may have a weakened immune system. They may not be able to withstand the side effects of aggressive treatments. This includes chemotherapy, which can damage both cancerous and healthy cells.
- Late-stage diagnoses: Patients diagnosed at stage 3 or stage 4 are often limited to palliative care. This is because the cancer may have metastasized, compromising the patient’s overall health.
- Aggressive cell type or cancer type: Some cell types make treatment more difficult. For example, sarcomatoid mesothelioma is often more aggressive and difficult to treat than epithelioid mesothelioma.
Palliative care options focus on symptoms, instead of targeting the cancer itself. Depending on the patient’s needs, this could be as simple as occupational therapy or as complex as a surgical procedure. For instance, palliative surgeries such as paracentesis and pleurodesis may drain fluid buildup in the abdominal cavity or lungs. As a result, this can alleviate pressure on organs and improve comfort.
A mesothelioma doctor can help patients determine which palliative options will make them most comfortable. Specialists may also suggest augmenting these treatments with alternative therapies.
Alternative Treatments for Mesothelioma
Many patients decide to supplement their treatment plan with alternative therapies. Alternative options often focus on the body as a whole, instead of the cancer cells. This may entail:
- A new diet and working with a nutritionist
- Herbal supplements
- Medical marijuana
- Physical therapy or occupational therapy
- Yoga or meditation
Patients should discuss all alternative treatments with their physician. This communication is crucial to ensure alternative options don’t affect other aspects of their treatment plan.
Clinical Trials for Mesothelioma Patients
Emerging treatments offer promise as new treatments to combat mesothelioma cancer. To determine their success, researchers study experimental treatments in clinical studies.
Clinical trials each have their own eligibility requirements. Patients should consult with their doctor to determine if they can apply to participate. Clinical trials allow physicians to test the efficacy of these new treatment options. They also allow patients to try something new if their cancer is unresponsive to traditional treatments.
Examples of current experimental therapies for mesothelioma include:
Establishing a Mesothelioma Treatment Plan
After diagnosis, mesothelioma doctors will help the patient develop a treatment plan. A formal treatment plan offers cancer patients and their families peace of mind. The plan will outline viable treatment options, a general treatment timeline, follow-up care and members of the patient’s medical care team.
Many different specialists will compose a patient’s medical care team. A care team may include:
- Facility nurses
- Social workers
- Psychiatrists or psychologists
- Nutritionists and dieticians
- Hospice or home care providers
- Occupational therapists
Together, you, your caregivers and members of the healthcare team will make informed decisions. These choices will inform what’s best for your mental health, physical health, emotional health and general well-being.
Successful treatment plans have helped some mesothelioma patients become mesothelioma survivors.
Mesothelioma Cancer Centers & Mesothelioma Specialists
Experienced mesothelioma specialists are best equipped to treat this rare type of cancer. Not all physicians are well-versed in the disease. For many patients, the best option is to travel to a cancer institute to seek professional and experienced care from a mesothelioma specialist.
Patients may find many mesothelioma physicians when they research renowned clinics and doctors. Patients should choose a doctor that specializes in their type of mesothelioma. For example, some doctors specialize in the treatment of malignant pleural mesothelioma. They have experience studying the disease and discovering which treatments offer the most promise.
Mesothelioma Treatment Costs
Mesothelioma treatment can be costly, but financial help is available. Insurance plans will often cover some medical costs of mesothelioma cancer treatment.
Costs for Mesothelioma Patients to Consider
- Insurance limitations
- Loss of income from being out of work
- Home care assistance
- Travel costs to see distant specialists
Patients should establish a financial plan to understand and address mesothelioma treatment costs.
Mesothelioma victims or their loved ones may also be eligible for compensation to help pay for treatment. There are several options available to asbestos victims to help with associated costs.
Compensation options include veterans’ benefits, a mesothelioma and asbestos lawsuit, trust fund claims or workers’ compensation. Ideally, patients can receive financial help to cover costs associated with getting the best treatment possible.
To review these compensation options, mesothelioma patients should contact an asbestos attorney. Asbestos lawyers can help patients throughout the entire legal process. This allows victims and their loved ones to focus on their treatment journey.