How Do Doctors Treat Mesothelioma?
Many mesothelioma treatment options can extend your life expectancy and improve your quality of life. Your treatment plan will primarily depend on the location of the cancer, or the type of mesothelioma you have (pleural, peritoneal, or pericardial). Other factors that will affect your course of treatment include the cell type present in the tumors (epithelioid, sarcomatoid, or biphasic), the stage at which you are diagnosed (1–4), your gender, your age, and your overall health.
Curative vs. palliative care
Patients who have stage 1 or 2 mesothelioma are often candidates for curative treatment options. The aim of curative treatment is to eradicate as much of the cancer as possible. Because these treatments can be aggressive — usually involving a combination of surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation — they are generally recommended for patients who are otherwise in good health.
For patients who have stage 3 or 4 mesothelioma or those who are in poor health, doctors usually focus on palliative care. Palliative care aims to relieve the patient’s pain or discomfort and to ease the symptoms of the cancer, such as coughing and respiratory issues. Palliative care may also be combined with curative treatment options to reduce their side effects, such as chemotherapy-induced nausea or weight loss.
Your mesothelioma treatment plan
Because mesothelioma is so rare, you should seek treatment from a doctor who has experience treating mesothelioma. Your mesothelioma doctor, along with the rest of your cancer care team, will create a treatment plan tailored to your individual case.
There are many treatment options for mesothelioma. These include surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, and immunotherapy. Some patients are also eligible for clinical trials, which are used to test new and emerging treatments. All of these treatment options may be deployed as both curative and palliative care.
During mesothelioma surgery, your surgeon will usually attempt to remove as much of the cancer as possible. Although surgery is often a curative treatment option, less-invasive surgical procedures may also be used as palliative treatments to relieve pressure from the tumor or from built-up fluid.
Chemotherapy is primarily used to kill any cancer cells that remain after surgery. However, chemotherapy can also serve as a palliative treatment to slow the progress of the cancer and prolong life expectancy.
Doctors use radiation therapy as both a curative and palliative treatment to shrink cancer cells and stop or slow their spread to other areas of the body.
Also known as ‘biotherapy,’ immunotherapy improves the immune system to help it fight the spread or recurrence of mesothelioma.
Many mesothelioma patients may be eligible to participate in clinical trials. Doctors and researchers conduct clinical trials and allow patients access to new and emerging treatments.
Most mesothelioma patients will receive a combination of the above treatment types. This is known as ‘multimodal therapy.’ These treatments can be administered in three stages: neoadjuvant therapy, primary therapy, and adjuvant therapy.
Neoadjuvant therapy occurs before the primary treatment. For mesothelioma, neoadjuvant therapy often includes radiation and/or chemotherapy.
Primary therapy refers to the main treatment for a disease. For mesothelioma, the primary therapy is usually surgery.
Adjuvant therapy occurs after the primary treatment. Adjuvant therapy for mesothelioma often includes chemotherapy and/or radiation.
The first step in any mesothelioma treatment plan is to find a qualified doctor and treatment facility. Veterans may seek treatment for mesothelioma and other asbestos-related diseases at both VA hospitals and non-VA hospitals.