What is Mesothelioma?
Mesothelioma is a rare form of cancer that matures from the mutation of cells in the mesothelium—the protecting lining that serves as a shield for several internal organs of the body.
Mesothelioma cancers are frequently caused by long-lasting exposure to asbestos. The majority of mesothelioma patients previously worked in jobs where they were in close contact with asbestos.
Mesothelioma cancer typically forms in the outer lining of the lungs and the internal wall of the chest cavity. Symptoms associated with mesothelioma cancer include: shortness of breath (derived from a build-up of fluid between the lungs and the chest wall), substantial coughing and severe weight loss.
Frequently, diagnosing mesothelioma cancer is particularly difficult. The complexities associated with diagnosis derive from the cancer’s slow-developing symptoms. In most cases, mesothelioma symptoms remain harmless for decades following the initial formation of the cancer.
Similar to other cancer, mesothelioma is categorized by stage. As mesothelioma cancer progresses the outlook becomes dire for the patient. The insidious nature of mesothelioma is coupled with its inconspicuousness to create a very dangerous disease—the majority of mesothelioma patients die within one year of diagnosis.
In most mesothelioma cases, the cancer will not be detected until the disease reaches its 3rd or 4th stage. When mesothelioma reaches advanced stages the disease becomes inoperable. That being said, there are still several mesothelioma treatment options which ultimately improve the patient’s quality of life.
Mesothelioma Treatment Options:
As stated above, diagnosing mesothelioma is extraordinarily difficult. And because mesothelioma cancer is highly malignant, patients and their loved ones typically have a difficult time addressing the issue of mesothelioma treatment.
Nearly all mesothelioma patients have curative or palliative treatment options available. These mesothelioma treatment options will extend survival and increase quality of life by alleviating pain and mitigating the associated mesothelioma symptoms.
Each mesothelioma case is considered unique. As such, there is no singular prescribed course of treatment for mesothelioma cancer. Because mesothelioma cancer has inconspicuous symptoms, diagnosing the disease early enough to implement curative treatment methods is often impossible. That being said, common diagnostic procedures, such as MRIs, CT scans, biopsies and x-rays are utilized to determine the spread of mesothelioma tumors, and more specifically, the precise stage of the cancer.
As previously stated, Stage III and Stage IV mesothelioma patients are inoperable; at this point, the cancer has spread throughout the body, rendering curative treatment options futile. Mesothelioma treatment options for later-stage patients are purely palliative—they will only mitigate the associated symptoms to bolster the patient’s quality of life. If the disease, by chance, is caught before the cancer metastasizes, curative mesothelioma treatment options are available.
Types of Mesothelioma Treatment Options:
Mesothelioma cancer treatment typically focuses on destroying the malignant cells of the disease. These options also attempt to strengthen the healthy cells that are unperturbed by the cancer. These goals can be accomplished through a number of mesothelioma treatment options; however, the big problem of detecting the disease before it spreads must be accomplished to achieve such lofty goals.
Presently, mesothelioma patients will typically utilize a combination of the following three primary mesothelioma treatment options: surgery, chemotherapy and radiation. The specific course of mesothelioma treatment is dependent on the following issues (remember, mesothelioma treatment varies on a case by case basis):
• The location of the tumor and the type of mesothelioma
• The size of the mesothelioma tumors
• The degree to which the mesothelioma cancer has metastasized or spread
• The stage of the cancer (Mesothelioma is subcategorized into 4 stages; the 1st stage represents the earliest development, whereas, the 4th stage is inoperable)
• The age of the patient
• The health of the patient
Choosing a mesothelioma treatment option will involve multiple trips to the doctor, including visits to the oncologist, radiologist and pulmonologist.
Mesothelioma Treatment Options: Surgery
Mesothelioma surgery may be performed on mesothelioma patients for two distinct reasons: the surgery may be performed as an attempt to cure the disease or for a palliative effort to improve the patient’s quality of life. Because mesothelioma cancer is frequently diagnosed in its later stages, curative surgeries are typically not an option. Once a mesothelioma tumor has spread outside the pleural cavity, reducing pain and improving the patient’s life through surgery is primarily the only reason why it is performed. As a result, the bulk of mesothelioma cases that utilize surgery as a treatment method only do so to mitigate symptoms; the patient’s prognosis expectancy will remain bleak even if surgery is performed.
Although the outlook is generally pessimistic, new tests are being developed to help diagnose mesothelioma at its earlier stages. If these tests prove successful, surgery will become a viable option to cure mesothelioma cancer. Detecting mesothelioma in the disease’s infancy would enable a medical professional to remove the cancer and the surrounding tissue to effectively stabilize mesothelioma.
Frequently, however, mesothelioma surgery is a palliative treatment option. For instance, doctors will opt for mesothelioma surgery (known as pleurodesis) which involves a talc injection into the lungs to impede fluids from returning. Moreover, thoracentesis is a surgical procedure that removes fluids from the lungs by means of a long needle. In more severe cases, a pleurectomy is recommended to ease the pain associated with mesothelioma. In this surgery, the lining of the lung is removed to control the build-up of fluid, which in turn, lessens pain and unclogs the breath way.
Mesothelioma Treatment Options: Radiation
Radiation is often recommended, if a mesothelioma patient’s health is too delicate for chemotherapy or surgery. Mesothelioma radiation yields the fewest side effects of all the mesothelioma treatment options.
Mesothelioma radiation is used in conjunction with other types of treatment such as an existing chemotherapy regimen. The most preferred type of mesothelioma radiation treatment is external beam radiation. This form of radiation is typically administered 5-days a week for up to 5 weeks. This course of action is palliative in nature; external beam radiation aims to mitigate the difficulties associated with breathing, swallowing, bleeding and pain. As a curative mesothelioma treatment option, radiation has shown limited efficacy. Brachytherapy radiation, although infrequent, may also be utilized. This form of radiation places radioactive materials directly inside the abdomen or lung.
Mesothelioma Treatment Options: Chemotherapy
Similar to radiation, chemotherapy provides no cure for mesothelioma cancer, but is extremely efficient in reducing the symptoms of the cancer. Chemotherapy drugs, as a means to combat mesothelioma, are either injected into the patient or ingested in pill form. Medical professionals will often combine multiple types of chemotherapy as a palliative effort. One drug will serve as the primary cytotoxin, while the other will serve as an alkalizing agent to fortify surrounding cells.
Presently, the only chemotherapy combination approved by the Food and Drug Administration is Cisplatin and Pemetrexed. In addition to these drugs, other medicines are given to the mesothelioma patient to relieve the nausea and vomiting that is common with chemotherapy.
Mesothelioma Treatment Options: Clinical Trials
Clinical trials refer to the study of new treatments for specific diseases. Clinical trials require patients who are willing to try experimental treatments before they can be approved by the Food and Drug Administration. Before taking any experimental drug, a patient should first consult with their doctor.