FAQ – Mesothelioma Treatment Options
Learning more about available treatments can help patients and families make better decisions about their treatment. View the most frequently asked questions about mesothelioma treatment.
General Treatment Questions
Even patients who see a mesothelioma specialist should consider getting a second opinion. Each specialist may come up with a different treatment plan for a specific diagnosis. It’s important that patient are comfortable with a plan of action. Most survivors can attest that having a doctor you trust and rely on is key to recovery. Get connected to a specialist using our free Doctor Match program.
Q: How is mesothelioma treated?
Mesothelioma is most often treated using surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy or some combination of treatments. The most curative treatment is surgery, which can remove tumors completely and keep the cancer from spreading. Chemotherapy and radiation therapy can slow down the growth of the cancer and provide pain relief for patients.
Mesothelioma patients are most likely to qualify for surgery in stage 1 or stage 2 of mesothelioma. Following stage 2, the risks associated with surgery may outweigh the benefits.
Q: How does surgery improve a patient’s prognosis?
During any of the primary surgeries, cancer masses and tumors can be removed. A surgeon may also reroute blood vessels to keep cancerous regions from spreading. Patients that undergo surgery often receive supplementary treatments such as chemotherapy or radiation therapy. These additional treatments may improve the effectiveness of surgery.
Q: Are there different types of surgery?
There are a variety of surgery types available for some mesothelioma patients. The most common pleural mesothelioma surgeries are the extrapleural pneumonectomy (removal of diseased lung) and the pleurectomy with decortication (removal of pleural space and cutting off of just the tumor). Pleurocentesis is the removal of fluids from the lungs and chest area. For peritoneal mesothelioma, the removal of diseased mesothelium is called a peritonectomy. The removal of fluid for the purpose of diagnosis or pain relief is called a paracentesis.
Chemotherapy uses cancer-killing drugs that circulate through the bloodstream seeking out cells that are reproducing too quickly. Once it interacts with these cells, it kills or damages them. Chemotherapy also affects other cells like the cells responsible for hair growth, which is why hair loss is sometimes a side effect. Luckily, many of the medications used in treating mesothelioma are capable of not causing hair loss.
Q: Is chemotherapy dangerous?
Chemotherapy uses potent medications for the purpose of prolonging life and may be used in combination with other treatments. A mesothelioma specialist will only use chemotherapy if the patient can handle the treatment. Chemotherapy has been maligned in recent years by activists calling it “poison”, but medical professionals still see its value as life saving and preserving. It is one of the most used therapies in the treatment of mesothelioma and many survivors have sworn by it.
Q: What are the side effects of chemotherapy?
Common chemotherapy side effects are hair loss, nausea, fatigue, bruising, and weakened immunity.
Q: How effective is chemotherapy?
The effectiveness of chemotherapy depends on the patient and the individual diagnosis. In some cases, chemotherapy has been very effective at slowing down the growth and spread of the cancer.
Q: How does chemotherapy work?
The chemotherapy drugs are given either intravenously or in pill form, ultimately entering the bloodstream. It’s meant to stop abnormal cell growth, which is what cancer is. When a chemotherapy drug comes across a cell that is reproducing at an unusual rate, it damages or kills that cell. Chemotherapy is often given in multi-week cycles for the greatest effectiveness.
Q: Is chemotherapy a viable option at any stage of mesothelioma?
Chemotherapy may be used at any stage of mesothelioma but depends on the general health and tolerability of the patient. Chemotherapy is best when used in a multimodal approach combined with other treatment options.
Q: Is chemotherapy applicable to all types of mesothelioma?
Yes, all types of mesothelioma respond to chemotherapy. Nearly 70% of all mesothelioma cells are epithelioid, which are common in numerous other cancers. With this past experience, doctors know which chemotherapy drugs are most effective against these cancer cells. Some patients have needed to try a few different chemotherapy drugs before finding the right one.
Radiation therapy uses high energy radiation beams to destabilize a malignant tumor. Radiation therapy is one of the most often used treatments for pain relief because it is non-invasive. Radiation therapy has advanced to the point that the beams are exact to within 1 centimeter of their target.
Q: Is radiation therapy dangerous?
All mesothelioma treatments have risks, but radiation therapy is the least dangerous of all treatment options. Radiologists seek to do the most damage to the malignant cancer mass or tumor without harming healthy cells.
Q: How does radiation therapy work?
For non-invasive radiation therapy, patients lie on a table and the external beam radiation machine is aimed at a specific location on their body while the rest of the patient is covered with protective gear. This treatment may only take 20-30 minutes and then the patient is on their way. There are also types of invasive radiation therapy used, such as brachytherapy. Brachytherapy uses an “implant” or “seed” which is placed inside the body beside a tumorous area. Once there, it will continue to emit radiation over the next 3 months, keeping the area clean from new growth following the surgery.
Q: How effective is radiation therapy?
The effectiveness of chemotherapy depends on the patient and the individual diagnosis. Radiation therapy is very effective for pain relief and for slowing the progression of the cancer.
Q: What are the side effects of radiation therapy?
Patients undergoing radiation therapy may experience dry mouth, sore throat, blistering, and fatigue.
Q: Is radiation therapy a viable option at any stage of mesothelioma?
Radiation is used through all 4 stages of mesothelioma. When it is used at an earlier stage, with other treatments such as surgery, it can help patients reach recovery. Radiation therapy used in later stages of mesothelioma is primarily for pain relief and patient comfort.
Multimodal therapy is the treatment of mesothelioma using a combination of differing treatments such as surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy.
Q: Does multimodal therapy produce more results in fighting mesothelioma?
The most successful patients in recovery have reported that a multimodal treatment approach was most effective. The combination of multiple treatment types ensures a well-rounded treatment plan. For example, Dr. David Sugarbaker uses heated chemotherapy during an extrapleural pneumonectomy. He’s found that it significantly decreases the amount of malignant resurgence following invasive surgery.