How serious is Mesothelioma?
Mesothelioma is an extremely serious and rare form of cancer that develops as a mutation of cells in the mesothelium—the lining of tissue that serves as a shield for several internal organs of the body. Mesothelioma is typically developed as a result of asbestos inhalation; the majority of mesothelioma sufferers have a long history dealing–whether through private use or employment–with asbestos.
Although there are several types of the cancer, mesothelioma commonly forms in the outer lining of the lungs and the internal walls of the chest. Mesothelioma symptoms often include: shortness of breath (stems from a build-up of fluid between the lungs and the chest wall), persistent cough and severe or unexpected weight loss.
Most often, diagnosing the cancer is exceptionally difficult. The intricacies associated with diagnosis derive from the cancer’s sluggish symptoms. Most patients with mesothelioma cancer will not feel or notice symptoms until the disease reaches its latter stages.
Similar to other cancerous diseases, mesothelioma is defined—with regards to intensity and prognosis–by stage. As the cancer progresses the outlook becomes less optimistic for the patient. The insidious nature of the cancer is paired with its inconspicuousness to create a very dangerous medical condition—the majority of mesothelioma suffer pass away within one year of diagnosis.
Because the majority of mesothelioma sufferers don’t realize they have the disease until the cancer has already metastasized, treatment options are widely palliative in nature. It is regarded as exceedingly dangerous to perform surgery or chemotherapy treatments on a sufferer of stage III or stage IV mesothelioma. As a result, the bulk of mesothelioma patients undergo fairly routine procedures to mitigate the symptoms and improve their overall quality of life.
What is Mesothelioma Chemotherapy?
Chemotherapy, in a general sense, is one of the most widely used treatments for all types of cancer. Chemotherapy implements certain medications to terminate cancerous cells and impede them from multiplying. A variety of chemotherapy drugs may be applied to treat mesothelioma cancers. Most often, mesothelioma chemotherapy is suggested as a combination therapy, to be used in conjunction with other therapies such as mesothelioma radiation. Mesothelioma chemotherapy may also be used as an adjuvant measure, particularly following a surgery, where it is applied to destroy any leftover tumors.
Chemotherapy is a complex and serious mesothelioma treatment option. It presents several side effects, but is regarded as the most efficacious solution to eliminate cancerous cells in the human body.
Receiving Mesothelioma Chemotherapy:
Mesothelioma chemotherapy is either given in pill form or given intravenously. Pill-form chemotherapy is referred to as “systemic” because it travels through the blood stream and protrudes throughout the entire body. This types of chemotherapy carries the most adverse side effects because it not only kills cancerous cells but all other kinds of rapidly-developing cells such as blood cells and hair cells. Because of this, mesothelioma patients who receive chemotherapy will lose their hair and suffer from low red or white blood cell counts.
A large number of pleural mesothelioma patients will be eligible for a different form of chemotherapy that pinpoints the tumor. This more-precise chemotherapy will perpetuate fewer side effects. Referred to as intrapleural chemotherapy, this mesothelioma treatment option involves infusing drugs in the patient’s chest (site of the tumor) via a catheter. This form of intra-cavitary mesothelioma chemotherapy treatment is regarded as the most efficient means of treating cancers that are limited to the pleural surface. A similar medical procedure is available for individuals suffering from peritoneal mesothelioma.
Mesothelioma Chemotherapy: Common Drugs
A variety of chemotherapy drugs are used to treat mesothelioma cancers. Currently, the most prolific chemotherapy drug—and the one doctors deem as the most successful—is Alimta. This drug is often used in tandem with a platinum agent, Vitamin B12 and a round of corticosteroids. The following chemotherapy drugs are commonly used to combat mesothelioma cancers:
Alimta: As briefly discussed above, Alimta is a systemic chemotherapy drug that is injected directly into the patient’s vein. Alimta is generally prescribed once every three weeks. Patients who take Alimta are also expected to take folic acids and Vitamin B12 to reduce the chance of developing harmful side effects.
Cisplatin: This chemotherapy drug is administered through an IV and is commonly used in conjunction with other drugs, such as Alimta. Medical professionals will treat mesothelioma sufferers with this chemotherapy drug when surgery is not an option.
Caroplatin: This chemotherapy drug was introduced in the late 1980’s and was derived from Cisplatin. Carboplatin yields fewer side effects than its predecessor but may inhibit the body’s ability to produce blood cells.
Gemcitabine: This chemotherapy is produced by pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly and company. Gemcitabine is primarily used in combination with Carboplating. Patients who take this drug report mild side effects.
Onconase: This is a new chemotherapy drug that is currently undergoing clinical trials. The primary advantage of onconase is that is said to terminate cancer cells while simultaneously preserving healthy tissues.
Navelbine: This chemotherapy drug is used in conjunction with Cisplating to combat mesothelioma cancer. Naveline may be administered orally or through an intravenous to reduce the size of the tumors.
It must be noted: the recommended chemotherapy drug will vary with each mesothelioma case. Oncologists will choose the drugs they believe will provide the most efficacy; the course of action will consider the patient’s age, health and the side effects of each drug.
Mesothelioma Chemotherapy: Side Effects
The most common side effects associated with mesothelioma chemotherapy are:
Hair Loss: Chemotherapy, as stated above, terminates all rapidly-developing cells in the human body. This includes hair cells. Loss of hair occurs because hair cells mimic cancer-cells in that they are both fast-growing. Chemotherapy drugs are unable to distinguish cancer cells from hair cells.
Mouth Sores: Also referred to as mucositis, mouth sores, inflammatory reactions of the mucous lining of the upper gastrointestinal tract. Mouth sores affect the lips, throat, mouth and surrounding tissues. Mouth sores are some of the most painful side effects of chemotherapy that perpetually interfere with chewing and swallowing. In general, mouth sores cannot be controlled or prevented. The only way a patient can mitigate this side effect is to keep his/her mouth and lips moist.
Chemo Brain: This is a condition that is common with mesothelioma chemotherapy patients. There is currently no cure for Chemo Brain; however, there are several habits that can be adopted to control it.
Vomiting: Although newer drugs reduce nausea and vomiting, all chemo patients are required to take anti-emetic drugs to lessen the chance of severe stomach distress.
Increased Susceptibility to Infection: Because chemotherapy destroys a number of cells (including white blood cells) patients undergoing this form of mesothelioma treatment should avoid contact with sick people.
Increased Fatigue: When red blood cells are terminated, severe fatigue takes place. Those who are on chemotherapy drugs should attempt to sleep as much as possible.