Mesothelioma Treatment Options
There are treatment options available for patients with all stages of mesothelioma and include surgery, chemotherapy, radiation and new clinical options.
What Are My Treatment Options?
There are several treatment options for patients with mesothelioma, from surgery to chemotherapy. These treatment options are not typically considered a cure for mesothelioma patients, although patients have reached remission in certain cases. These cases are typically situations where the disease was caught in the earliest stages and treated aggressively by a specialist.
Aggressive surgical treatments combined with chemotherapy and radiation have increased the life expectancy of many patients.
Clinical trials offer patients access to emerging treatments such as immunotherapy treatments, gene therapy and photodynamic therapy.
How to Get Treated for Mesothelioma
There are three major steps patients should follow for how to receive mesothelioma treatment:
1See a specialist for mesothelioma. Rather than seeing a general oncologist, you should reach out to an experienced mesothelioma oncologist or surgeon. They’re more likely to utilize the latest novel treatments for extending life expectancy.
2Do your research into different treatment options. Surgery is usually at the top of the list because it’s the quickest way to take out the cancer and improve your prognosis. However, not all patients are healthy enough for surgery, or the cancer is too advanced. Chemotherapy, radiation and immunotherapy are all common options. Look into each of the therapies and weigh the benefits of each for your specific case of mesothelioma.
3Speak to a patient advocate about financial assistance. Treatment for mesothelioma can be expensive, even enough to drain your savings or retirement account. If you’re going to an out-of-region cancer center, you’ll also have travel costs. Patient advocates can provide information on travel grants, decreased lodging and other ways to pay for treatment.
Questions About Your Treatment Plan?
to contact Jenna
to contact Jenna
Jenna Campagna, RN explains how she assists patients.
Connect with Jenna
Pleural Treatment: Extrapleural Pneumonectomy
Developed by Dr. David Sugarbaker for early stage pleural mesothelioma.
Extrapleural pneumonectomy is a treatment for early stage mesothelioma. This procedure often includes pre-operative chemotherapy followed by an extensive surgery to remove the diseased lung. Intraoperative chemotherapy may be applied remove any remaining cells. The developer of this surgery, Dr. David Sugarbaker, has been practicing medicine for over thirty years.
Extrapleural Pneumonectomy & Chemotherapy
Adjuvant Chemotherapy & IMRT Radiation Therapy
Get more information about: Extrapleural Pneumonectomy
- Cisplatin and pemetrexed is the most common and effective combination for patients prior to the EPP surgery.
- 61.2% of patients who received this combination lived at least two years past their initial surgery.
The extrapleural pneumonectomy is used to treat patients with stage 1 or 2 pleural mesothelioma. The affected lung is removed along with the entire pleura (lining), part of the pericardium and part of the diaphragm. By removing the lung and the tissue around it, metastasis of pleural mesothelioma is limited.
Sometimes hyperthermic intraoperative cisplatin chemotherapy (HIOC) is used immediately following an extrapleural pneumonectomy. During this process, chemotherapy is heated to about 107 degrees. The heated chemo wash is then placed inside the chest cavity and is washed around for about one hour. The goal of this procedure is to help remove any mesothelioma cells that may have been left behind by surgery.
In a study conducted by Dr. David Sugarbaker, epithelial malignant pleural mesothelioma patients that experienced HIOC had a longer survival rate. It also took their disease longer to recur.
- Chemotherapy is used in all patients. Medication may be changed if patients don’t respond positively.
- Intensity modulated radiation therapy (IMRT) may be administered directly to the chest cavity to destroy remaining cancer cells.
- Dr. Anne Tsao concluded that only 13% of patients who received multimodal treatment showed local recurrence of mesothelioma after an EPP surgery.
- Distant recurrence is more common, occurring in half of all patients.
Pleural Treatment: Pleurectomy / Decortication
Developed by Dr. Robert Cameron for early stage pleural mesothelioma.
As the only lung-sparing surgery for pleural mesothelioma, the pleurectomy with decortication has become a highly popular treatment option. The most successful treatment is the pleurectomy with decortication. In a pleurectomy, surgeons remove the diseased lining of the lungs. Some patients may be treated with intraoperative radiation therapy. The procedure often includes pre-operative chemotherapy followed by surgery and postoperative chemotherapy. Dr. Robert Cameron turned the pleurectomy into the successful treatment it is today. He is the director of the mesothelioma program at UCLA Cancer Center.
Pleurectomy & Chemotherapy
Get more information about: Pleurectomy with Decortication
- Most patients receive four weeks of chemotherapy drug to stop the growth of future tumors.
- Chemotherapy used prior to surgery helps shrink the tumors, making it easier for the surgeon to remove more of the diseased tissue.
The pleurectomy/decortication involves removing the pleura (lining of the lungs)affected with mesothelioma tumors in patients with stages 1 or 2 mesothelioma. This surgery is a lung-sparing surgery and has a lower mortality rate than an extrapleural pneumonectomy.
- Adjuvant chemotherapy helps kill cancerous cells left behind from surgery.
- Patients typically remain on cisplatin for 3-5 weeks after surgery.
- Adjuvant radiation may also be used.
Peritoneal Treatment: Cytoreduction with HIPEC
Developed by Dr. Paul Sugarbaker for early stage peritoneal mesothelioma.
Dr. Paul Sugarbaker created a method of treating peritoneal mesothelioma known as "The Sugarbaker Procedure.” The Sugarbaker Technique is a cytoreductive surgery to remove tumors from the abdomen followed by heated intraoperative chemotherapy (HIPEC). This surgery is used in patients with abdominal cancers like peritoneal mesothelioma. Dr. Sugarbaker (brother of pleural mesothelioma specialist, David) is the director of surgical oncology at the Washington Cancer Institute in Washington D.C.
Cytoreduction & HIPEC Chemotherapy
Radiation Therapy & Adjuvant Chemotherapy
Get more information about: Cytoreduction with HIPEC
- Neoadjuvant chemotherapy is usually given to patients before they undergo a cytoreductive surgery.
- Cisplatin and pemetrexed is a common combination given to patients.
- 30% of patients who received neoadjuvant chemotherapy before cytoreduction showed increased lifespan after their surgery.
Patients with early stages of peritoneal mesothelioma are eligible for a cytoreduction. This surgery removes the peritoneum and any tumors within it. On average, this surgery can increase patient life expectancy from about 11 months without surgery to 87.2 months when used with HIPEC.
Heated Intraperitoneal Chemotherapy (HIPEC)
HIPEC is used in conjunction with cytoreduction surgery. The patient’s abdominal cavity is filled with a chemotherapy drug, and the organs and tissue are bathed in the substance. After 60-90 minutes, the chemotherapy is rinsed and the patient is sewn up. This chemotherapy kills any remaining cancer cells left over after the cytoreduction surgery.
- Radiation and chemotherapy are both used after a cytoreduction surgery.
- Dr. Paul Sugarbaker has used a combination of Taxol (medication which inhibits cancer growth) and fluorouracil (stops growth of certain proteins) in the early post-operation period.
- Afterwards, patients may be treated with cisplatin and doxorubicin or cisplatin and mitomycin C.
There are many groundbreaking clinical trials currently working towards a cure. These clinical trials are usually provided at no cost to the patient. Some research groups even compensate patients for time and travel.
Clinical trails are performed to develop new treatments and to test effectiveness and safety. Through these trials, researchers also learn any reactions or side effects patients may experience.
Every modern mesothelioma treatment began as a clinical trial, and many lives were saved as a result of these treatments. Patients who take part in clinical trials have been shown to have significantly better chances of survival that those who do not.
There are also experimental therapies currently being researched and tested. Gene therapy is a new treatment option that uses healthy DNA to repair the cancerous cells into healthy cells.
Immunotherapy is another novel treatment that is shaking things up in the mesothelioma community as well. These treatments use various methods to stimulate the immune system to attack mesothelioma cells. Immunotherapy provides a welcome alternative to standard chemotherapy for which some patients do not respond.
Another emerging treatment is photodynamic therapy. This treatment option aims at killing cancer cells by exposing them to oxygen that is activated by a light source. Photodynamic therapy has been used in conjunction with pleurectomy. By using photodynamic therapy, the remaining cancer cells are killed after the pleura is removed.
Emerging treatments such as photodynamic therapy may become the standard of care for mesothelioma in the future. It is also important to remember that all methods of treatment started out in trials. The advantage of clinical trials for mesothelioma patients is that most of the therapies being tested provide a treatment option where there is no standard of care, such as late stage mesothelioma. Get enrolled in a clinical trial to become one of the patients utilizing new, cutting-edge treatments.
Connect with a Mesothelioma Specialist
Connecting with a specialist who is knowledgeable about mesothelioma is critical. Mesothelioma is a rare cancer and there are a limited number of specialists who are qualified to treat patients with it.
Specialists can also offer more aggressive treatments options than a general oncologist. These treatments have the potential to increase life expectancy significantly, and new treatments are always emerging.
The doctors above are just a few of the specialists we can connect you with.
Our Doctor Match program involves our team traveling across the nation, developing relationships with the best mesothelioma specialists and cancer centers. Through these relationships, we connect patients with a specialist uniquely capable of treating a patient, based on their diagnosis.
Find out more about specialists around the United States with our free Doctor Match program.
More than one-third of all patients diagnosed with mesothelioma are military veterans. There are mesothelioma VA treatment centers and veteran benefits that can reduce the cost of treatment.
The VA has two of the most renowned mesothelioma treatment centers in the country at the West Los Angeles VA and the Boston VA. These centers accept veterans from across the country and the VA offers travel assistance in some cases.
It is important for veterans to realize that a general oncologist is not a substitute for a mesothelioma specialist. General oncologists are unlikely to have experience treating the disease and may not recommend the best treatment.
Learn more about the VA treatment centers that specialize in treating veterans with mesothelioma:
- West Los Angeles VA — The West Los Angeles VA is home to the Elmo Zumwalt Comprehensive Mesothelioma Center. The program is led by Dr. Robert Cameron, the innovator of the pleurectomy/decortication. He accepts patients from across the country who are looking for a specialist.
- Boston VA — On the eastern side of the country, the Boston VA has developed a treatment program for mesothelioma patients by collaborating with nearby Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH). The Boston VA’s mesothelioma program is overseen by specialist Dr. Hassan Khalil, who also treats patients at BWH.
Common Questions About Mesothelioma Treatment
Can mesothelioma be treated?
While there is no cure for mesothelioma, a number of therapies have prolonged patients’ lives. Surgery has the most significant benefit, often extending survival by multiple years. Doctors remove tumors by taking out the part of the body where they’ve formed or spread to. Chemotherapy, radiation and immunotherapy are additional treatment options.
How can you treat pleural mesothelioma?
Pleural mesothelioma has two surgical options for curative intent: extrapleural pneumonectomy (EPP) and pleurectomy with decortication (P/D). EPP is a more aggressive operation, removing the pleura (where this cancer forms) plus the affected lung. P/D spares the lung, focusing mostly on the pleura. Other options are chemotherapy, radiation, and immunotherapy.
What are the ways to treat peritoneal mesothelioma?
The primary method to treat peritoneal mesothelioma is cytoreductive surgery followed by a heated form of chemotherapy. This combination is called cytoreduction with hyperthermic intraperitoneal chemotherapy (HIPEC). Doctors wash the abdomen with a liquid chemotherapy cocktail to quickly kill microscopic tumors. Standard intravenous chemotherapy is another option.
What are some of the emerging treatment options to improve survival rates for mesothelioma?
The most popular emerging methods are immunotherapy and tumor treating fields. Both recently received approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for pleural mesothelioma. Some of the lesser-known novel approaches are:
- Gene therapy
- Photodynamic therapy
What are the treatment options if your disease is too advanced for aggressive surgery?
A lot of people with mesothelioma don’t learn of their disease until it’s already in stage 3 or stage 4. At this time, curative surgery or other therapies might not be possible. For these cases, doctors use pain-relief treatment to drain fluid, relieve tumor tension against body parts, and reduce symptom discomfort.