Mesothelioma Treatment and Therapy

What is Mesothelioma?

Mesothelioma is a rare from of cancer typically caused by prolonged exposure to airborne asbestos fibers.  These fibers, once inside the body, cannot be broken down by the body's natural defenses.  After 10-50 years, these fibers cause cancerous cells to develop inside the mesothelium - the thin protective and lubricating lining around many of the body's most important moving organs like the lungs and heart.  Once cancerous cells begin to form, the mesothelium will begin to divide without control or order.

Can Mesothelioma be Cured?

Unfortunately, there is no cure for Mesothelioma.  The expected survival rate ranges from 8 to 24 months.  If the Mesothelioma is caught early, proper treatment can increase the survival rate to upwards of 5 years.  Because of the latency between asbestos exposure and the early stages of Mesothelioma, early detection is very difficult without regular lung check-ups.  If you suspect that you or a loved one as been exposed to asbestos, let your health care professional know.  This will help your doctor recognize and properly diagnose Mesothelioma in its early stages. 

Mesothelioma Treatments

Treatment for Mesothelioma is similar to treatment for other cancers.  Usually treatment involves a combination of chemotherapy, radiation treatment, or surgery.  These treatments are designed to minimize the damage that Mesothelioma causes to your body.  There are also some experimental treatments that have shown promising results.

Mesothelioma and Chemotherapy

Chemotherapy is one of the most common and widely recognized forms of cancer treatment.  Chemo, as it is often referred to, is a form of treatment that utilizes powerful chemical substances to kill malignant tumor cells.  Unfortunately, chemotherapy cannot differentiate between cancerous and healthy cells, leading to some serious side effects.  Chemo is most often employed as a treatment for Mesothelioma patients when they are not candidates for surgical treatments.  Current chemotherapy treatments for Mesothelioma patients use a combination of Alimta (pemetrexed) and Cisplatin.  Alimta is the first FDA drug specifically approved for treatment in Mesothelioma patients.

In addition to the chemotherapy chemicals, it is often recommended that patients take vitamin B12 injections and folic acid in concert with their chemotherapy treatments in order to mitigate the harmful side effects of the drugs.  The chemo drugs are typically administered every 21 days.  Be sure to discuss the potential side effects and any other medications you are taking with your health care professional. 

Mesothelioma and Surgery

Surgical treatments are divided into two categories.  The first is palliative procedures designed to treat the symptoms of Mesothelioma.  The second is potentially curative procedures designed to remove the gross disease while recognizing that the microscopic disease will still remain.

Palliative procedures do not attempt to treat the Mesothelioma itself, instead these procedures focus on relieving the symptoms of the disease.  Pleurodesis, or chest tube drainage is used to drain the buildup of fluid resulting from pleural effusion, a common symptom of Mesothelioma. When the pleural effusion cannot be controlled by pleurodesis, your medical team may suggest a pleurectomy.  This procedure is considered the most effective method of managing pleural effusion when the disease has advanced to the later stages.

Potentially, curative procedures are designed to remove as much of the gross malignant cells as possible.  When caught in the early stages, a pleurectomy may be employed to remove tumors along the pleura.

Mesothelioma and Radiation Therapy

Radiotherapy, as the treatment is commonly referred to, uses ionizing radiation to control the growth of cancerous, malignant cells.  Like chemotherapy, radiotherapy is considered a palliative treatment, designed to control and localize the spread of cancerous cells while providing symptomatic relief.  Radiotherapy is often used in concert with surgery in Mesothelioma patients. 

The information provided is not intended to be medical advice.  For medical advice, please consult a licensed healthcare professional.