Mesothelioma is a cancer in the lining of the lungs, heart or abdominal cavity that is caused by exposure to asbestos. Common symptoms include difficulty breathing, side or back pain, fluid buildup, nausea and vomiting. Mesothelioma cancers have a long latency, often not developing symptoms for decades after the initial exposure to asbestos. They are also difficult to diagnose, as the symptoms mimic a number of other, minor, conditions. Often, even after symptoms develop, patients won’t seek help for what they believe are mild colds or stomach ailments. For this reason, diagnosis usually doesn't occur until the cancer is already in advanced stages, making treatment difficult.
Mesothelioma Treatment Options
At this point, there is no cure for mesothelioma. However there are several treatments available which can improve the prognosis, extending both life expectancy and quality of life. Early diagnosis has a major impact on the effect of treatments, and the prognosis of the disease.
In the early stages, if the cancer is diagnosed quickly enough, surgery to remove the tumor can be very helpful. The most important thing for surgery to be an option is the cancer cannot have metastasized yet – spread to other parts of the body. Once multiple tumors have developed and spread, surgery is no longer an option in mesothelioma treatment.
Chemotherapy is probably the most common mesothelioma treatment. There are limited chemotherapy drugs which can be used as treatment with different mesotheliomas. In early stages, chemotherapy, especially in concert with surgery or radiation, may be able to drive the cancer into remission. In later stages, chemotherapy acts as a palliative, reducing the effects and spread of mesothelioma cancer. There are few chemotherapy drugs that have been approved by the FDA for mesotheliomas, and different mesotheliomas respond to different drugs. At this point, the FDA has approved the combination of Alimta(Pemetrexed) and Cisplatin for pleural mesothelioma treatment. There are no drugs currently approved for peritoneal mesothelioma treatment, however numerous clinical trials are under way for chemotherapy drugs, including Gemcitabine, Navelbine, and Onconase. Clinical trials are always seeking participants, and your oncologist can tell you if one may be helpful to your treatment.
Radiation therapy is not and effective mesothelioma treatment on its own; other therapies are needed to manage the cancer. However radiation therapy in combination with surgery or chemotherapy can help reduce and control the spread of the tumor(s).
Alternative and complementary therapies have seen increasing use in cancer treatment in recent years. While alternative and complementary therapies cannot address mesothelioma directly, several of them have been used to help manage the pain and symptoms of the cancer, and to treat the side effects of chemotherapy. Acupuncture, massage, and reflexology have been used to improve quality of life in this manner. Herbalism may also be beneficial, but avoid over the counter herbal supplements, as they may interact badly with other medications. As always, go to a certified or licensed professional for any alternative or complementary therapies, and speak with your oncologist before beginning any treatments.