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Mesothelioma Treatment Options

  • Published: 2008-12-30 (Revised/Updated 2009-07-20) : Author: Disabled World
  • Synopsis: A number of mesothelioma treatment options are available including radiotherapy surgery and chemotherapy.

Main Document

There are several types of treatment available for patients with
mesothelioma, some recommended more frequently than others. The most commonly used treatments are surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy.

While there is currently no cure available for malignant mesothelioma, there are treatments available.

There are several types of treatment available for patients with mesothelioma, some recommended more frequently than others. The most commonly used treatments are surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy.

Malignant mesothelioma is difficult to treat for several reasons. Like all cancers, it becomes more difficult to treat after the disease progresses.

Because mesothelioma doesn't show its symptoms until decades after the patient is exposed, it is often not found until it has reached advanced stages. Unfortunately, mesothelioma is also easily misdiagnosed, further delaying treatment. When the disease is found, it frequently doesn't respond well to conventional cancer treatments.

The nature of mesothelioma which affects tissues that line some of the major organs of the body means that it cannot easily be removed with surgery. And treatment can also be complicated by the demographics of its victims - generally, men over the age of 50 - whose health may not allow very radical treatments.

All of this means that even newly diagnosed mesothelioma patients sometimes are given a very bad chance of recovery by their doctors.

Statistics are hard to come by, but British scientists suggest that 10% of newly diagnosed mesothelioma patients will live for at least three more years; 5% will live five years or more. For patients in the first stage, 50% live for at least two more years. However doctors can be mistaken, and a diagnosis of mesothelioma is in no way always tantamount to a death sentence. In one famous case, scientist Stephen Jay Gould survived with peritoneal mesothelioma for almost twenty years. He eventually died from a different type of cancer.

There are four stages of malignant mesothelioma, which measure how far the disease has progressed. How a patient's mesothelioma is treated depends largely on which stage he or she is in when the disease is found.

Stage I: Localized mesothelioma that exists only in the lungs, the diaphragm or the pericardial lining.

Stage II: Advanced mesothelioma that has spread into the lymph nodes of the chest.

Stage III: Advanced mesothelioma that has spread into the wall of the chest, the center of the chest, the lining of the heart and the diaphragm. Stage III malignant mesothelioma may or may not have spread to the lymph nodes.

Stage IV: Advanced mesothelioma that has spread far from the chest and abdomen into other organs.


Patients with Stage I or milder Stage II mesothelioma are generally offered one or more of the conventional cancer treatments: surgery, radiation and chemotherapy.

For early-stage patients, surgery for mesothelioma aims to cure the disease by literally cutting the cancer out of the patient's body. The most common type of surgery for pleural mesothelioma is a pleurectomy/decortication, which is where doctors remove all or part of the tissues lining the lungs and chest cavity.

If doctors find that they can't remove the cancer without removing the lung underneath those tissues, they may remove one lung as well; this is called a pneumonectomy. A more radical type of surgery for pleural mesothelioma is called an extra-pleural pneunonectomy (EPP). In the case of an EPP, surgeons will remove parts of one lung, the pleura, the diaphragm, and the lining of the heart. These are difficult and dangerous surgeries that doctors won't recommend lightly.

Patients with peritoneal mesothelioma - the kind that affects the abdomen - may be offered cytoredutive surgery. In this surgery, doctors are trying to remove all of the cancerous tissue they can find in the abdomen and gut. They may also choose to do a peritonectomy -removal of the entire lining of the abdomen. Again, this is not an easy surgery and may not be possible for everyone, but it has been successful in some patients. Patients with pericardial mesothelioma are not generally offered surgery.

Because of the fact that the symptoms of mesothelioma lung cancer can remain latent for many years, the detection of this disease can be very difficult. For the detection and treatment of this disease, it is important for individuals to seek the services of a professional mesothelioma doctor.

The treatment program for mesothelioma depends on many factors, including: the stage of the cancer, where the cancer is, how far the cancer has spread, how the cancer cells look under the microscope and the patient's age and desires.

1/ Radiotherapy - This involves using high energy radiation beams to destroy the cancerous cells. Radiotherapy is often used to relieve any undesirable symptoms but can sometimes prove an effective treatment for mesothelioma. It can also be used to shrink the tumor before surgery and to reduce the risk of the cancer returning after surgery.

Radiotherapy treatment also has comes with some unwanted side effects. These include nausea, vomiting and tiredness. However, these side effects and their severity varies depending upon the strength of the radiation used and the length of the radiotherapy treatment.

2/ Surgery - If you have pleural mesothelioma and it is in the early stages, surgery may be a viable treatment option. However, it cannot usually be used to treat peritoneal mesothelioma. When surgery is possible it will usually involve a pleurectomy (removing part or all of the pleura and the surrounding lung tissue) but sometimes an extra-pleural pneumonectomy (removing the pleura, the diaphragm, the tumor and the whole lung) is required for more advanced cancers.

3/ Chemotherapy - This mesothelioma treatment involves using anti-cancer medications to slow the growth of the tumor. It can also help reduce any undesirable symptoms. Unfortunately, in most cases chemotherapy alone is not enough to cure mesothelioma and instead helps provide sufferers with a better quality of life. However, it can be effective after surgery for killing off any remaining cancer cells and reducing the risk of recurrence.

Chemotherapy treatment does come with some undesirable side effects. The main side effect is that the drugs used often kill some non-cancerous cells too which makes you more susceptible to infections and can make you tire more easily. There are other associated side effects which include hair loss, nausea and diarrhea. However, these depend upon the type of chemotherapy drug being used.

4/ Alternative Mesothelioma Treatment - A number of alternative therapies can also be combined with traditional treatment options. Many patients choose to add alternative therapies such as massage, acupuncture, or TENS therapy to their conventional treatment approach in an effort to enhance or compliment the treatment process. A variety of alternative therapies, including aromatherapy, meditation, or yoga, are often added to a treatment regimen to provide pain relief and foster relaxation.

In the process of killing cancer cells, some healthy cells will also be damaged. It is these damaged cells that cause the often difficult side effects of treating mesothelioma.


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