Palliative care is common for late-stage mesothelioma patients to improve quality of life.
Palliative treatments aim to remove as many symptoms as possible for the patient.
Palliative treatment can be done at any time throughout a patient’s treatment journey.
Combined with standard treatments, palliative care can improve patient survival.
While the goal of standard mesothelioma treatments is to remove or kill as much of the cancer as possible, palliative treatments are focused on reducing patient symptoms. There are many different kinds of palliative treatments available, which can be utilized at any point during a patient’s treatment journey.
Purpose of Palliative Treatments
The main purpose of undergoing palliative care for the treatment of mesothelioma is to help manage mesothelioma symptoms. Oftentimes, patients will undergo palliative treatment alongside standard mesothelioma treatments like surgery, chemotherapy or radiation therapy to offer comfort. For patients diagnosed with stage 3 and stage 4 mesothelioma, palliative care may be the primary component of their treatment plan when aggressive treatments are no longer a viable option.
In addition to helping with symptoms, palliative care can offer other comforts to patients. Benefits may include:
- Reduced symptoms and improved quality of life
- Mental and emotional care
- Improved life expectancy
Different palliative treatments address different symptoms, and can differ greatly based on the type of mesothelioma that a patient has. When symptoms are reduced, patients often experience much more comfort and an improved quality of life. Some types of care also focus specifically on helping the patient mentally and emotionally handle their diagnosis and treatment journey.
While palliative treatments do not aim to reduce, kill or cure cancer, they can help improve patient survival. Studies have found that patients undergoing standard cancer treatments in addition to palliative care have shorter hospital stays, less trips to the emergency room and longer life expectancies than those receiving solely standard care. Researchers continue to study why palliative care can improve mesothelioma prognosis and if the types of care and time of palliative intervention can influence the effect on survival.
Types of Palliative Care
Surgery, chemotherapy and radiation therapy are the main techniques used to treat malignant mesothelioma. Typically, the goal of these treatments is to remove or shrink mesothelioma tumors. However, they can also be used palliatively. Palliative chemotherapy and palliative radiation, in particular, have shown success in clinical trials with improving life expectancies for malignant mesothelioma patients.
Palliative Uses of Standard Treatments
- Surgery: Palliative surgery can remove tumors or fluid buildup putting pressure on organs within the body.
- Chemotherapy: Palliative chemotherapy aims to remove shrink tumors and prevent further growth, reducing symptoms.
- Radiation: Palliative radiation aims to shrink tumors, slow down their growth and therefore reduce symptoms.
Some palliative surgeries are specific to the type of mesothelioma that a patient has. These procedures include:
- Pleurodesis: A surgical procedure used for pleural mesothelioma patients to treat pleural effusion. Excess fluid is drained from the pleural cavity to improve symptoms like chest pain and trouble breathing.
- Paracentesis: A surgical procedure used for peritoneal mesothelioma patients to treat peritoneal effusion. Excess fluid is drained from the peritoneal cavity to improve symptoms like abdominal pain and swelling.
- Thoracentesis: A surgical procedure used to treat pleural mesothelioma patients experiencing pleural effusion. The treatment drains fluid or extra air from the pleural space, which can improve breathing and alleviate other symptoms like pressure in the chest.
- Pericardiocentesis: A surgical procedure used for pericardial mesothelioma patients to treat pericardial effusion. Excess fluid is drained from the pericardial cavity to improve symptoms like chest pain and shortness of breath.
Alternative Therapies for Palliative Care
Not all cancer patients may be able to undergo aggressive surgery, chemotherapy or radiation treatments, especially if they are in poor health or diagnosed with a later stage of mesothelioma. However, it’s crucial for mesothelioma patients to seek help for their symptoms to get help managing mesothelioma pain.
There are many other palliative options with less treatment side effects that can offer significant help with mesothelioma pain, focusing on not just physical pain, but emotional and mental support as well. Examples include:
- Art therapy
- Diet planning
- Massage therapy
- Occupational therapy
- Pain medication
- Physical therapy
Typically all members of a patient’s treatment team will work together to establish palliative care goals and ensure the patient’s needs are being met. Medical teams will ensure any alternative treatments won’t interfere with the patient’s main treatment plan.
Mesothelioma patients should vocalize any wants, questions or concerns that they have to their health care team before deciding which treatment options they will pursue. If patients require more extensive cancer care, their medical team may suggest hospice care for more frequent attention to making them comfortable.