What Is Palliative Care?
Palliative care doesn’t slow or prevent the spread of cancer. It treats disease symptoms and the side effects of treatment. Curative care aims to extend a patient’s life, typically with surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation. Palliative care is used to relieve the symptoms and pain associated with mesothelioma and treatment.
Palliative Treatments for Mesothelioma
Many of the palliative treatments are the same procedures as the primary, curative treatments. These include:
Other treatments and homeopathic remedies are used solely as palliative care. These can vary greatly depending on the patient’s doctor, as well as factors surrounding their prognosis and diagnosis. These treatments include:
- Pain medication
- Complementary therapies
- Lifestyle changes
Factors That Affect Palliative Options
Palliative care, often necessary to maintain a patient’s quality of life, can vary from patient to patient. These differences are due to the factors surrounding the individual’s specific mesothelioma diagnosis, including:
- Type of mesothelioma
- Cell type
- Stage of mesothelioma
- Age of patient
- Overall health of the patient
A doctor will work with you to determine what treatments will work best for you.
Surgery for Palliative Care
After an extended period of time, mesothelioma will spread and become unable to be surgically removed. In cases like these, doctors instead use surgery to alleviate pain and suffering by removing obstructive tumors or fluid. Surgery varies based on the type of mesothelioma, (pleural, peritoneal, or pericardial), but is typically used to remove excess fluid. Fluid build-up is common and one of the more painful symptoms of the disease. Generally, the surgeries to remove excess fluid are named after the type of mesothelioma or part of the body affected. These are:
- Thoracentesis for pleural mesothelioma
- Paracentesis for peritoneal mesothelioma
- Pericardiocentesis for pericardial mesothelioma
The procedures listed above are not curative. They are solely a way to relieve pain and discomfort in people diagnosed with late-stage mesothelioma.
Chemotherapy for Palliative Care
Chemotherapy drugs may be used as a curative or palliative treatment, and help shrink tumors or stop their progression. Chemotherapy can be done as a standalone procedure or in conjunction with surgery.
For patients with mesothelioma, chemotherapy medications can be administered directly to the affected area. Despite its effectiveness, however, chemotherapy attacks healthy cells as well as diseased cells. Treatments often cause various side effects, including:
- Weight loss
- Hair loss
Patients undergoing chemotherapy should report any and all side effects to their doctor. There are medications to help reduce any uncomfortable reactions to chemotherapy drugs.
Radiation for Palliative Treatment
Similar to chemotherapy, radiation can be used as a curative or palliative treatment. Patients who are in poor health and can’t undergo invasive surgery can be given radiation therapy to shrink or eliminate tumors. This is especially helpful for mesothelioma patients with large, unresectable (i.e., unremovable) tumors. In these cases, radiation therapy is used to relieve pain.
Steroids and Medication for Palliative Care
Mesothelioma patients will experience adverse side effects from the disease as well as recovery side effects following treatment. These can include:
- Loss of appetite
- Weight loss
- Physical weakness
- Physical pain
To treat this, doctors and specialists will prescribe medications (like steroids) to boost the patient’s strength, as well as pain relief medication to deal with any level of pain the patient may experience.
Complementary Therapies and Lifestyle Changes
Depending on the situation, the doctor may suggest traditional and alternative therapies, along with some changes in their lifestyle. Many patients are finding relief with:
Patients who lead active lives and change their diet can improve their pain and, at times, their prognosis. These changes don’t need to be drastic and can be as simple as:
- Eating healthier
- Cutting back on smoking
- Avoiding alcohol
- Getting more rest
The Cost of Palliative Care
If you are a veteran, palliative care is often covered through your VA benefits. Veterans who are not eligible for those benefits, or need additional compensation to cover medical bills and lost wages, may take legal action against the companies that manufactured asbestos. This legal action does not involve suing the government or the United States military and, in turn, does not affect VA benefits.
If you are a veteran with questions about filing a claim, call the number listed to speak with a mesothelioma lawyer.