Due to the severity of the disease, mesothelioma treatment options, depending upon the patient, consist of a wide variety of medical care choices. Each patient is unique and while some may need proactive treatment to stop the spread of cancer cells, others may need treatment that focuses more on alleviating the symptoms and pain that occur during the latter part of the disease.
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The patient’s information is the starting point for mesothelioma treatment, including age, medical history, previous occupations, weight, symptoms of mesothelioma, and more. Next, the patient’s diagnosis will determine what type of treatment will work best. For example, if there is a good chance of a curable outcome, doctors will work towards removing the tumors and cancerous cells. If the disease is in its advanced stage, treatment typically revolves around helping to improve the patient’s life through a managed healthcare plan, medication, and therapy.
The most common forms of treatments for mesothelioma are surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and/or a combination of therapy and surgery.
Patients who have been diagnosed before the disease has spread too far are usually candidates for surgery. Curative surgery entails removing the tumor before it spreads to the lymph nodes and other body parts. If the cancer has already spread, doctors may perform palliative surgery, which may require removing an entire lung. Surgery is the most commonly used treatment for mesothelioma and is usually followed up with chemotherapy and/or radiation.
If the disease has indeed spread too far, it will be at the physician’s discretion as to whether surgery is a viable option. Although there are always exceptions to the rule, most victims in the later stages of asbestos-related diseases are not healthy enough to withstand surgery. Additionally, tumors that are spread throughout the body are difficult to remove entirely.
Chemotherapy is the least intrusive form of treatment and also the most practical way in increasing a patient’s life expectancy rate. Chemotherapy is usually used in conjunction with a combination of chemotherapy drugs for a increased chance of success. The goal of chemotherapy is to reduce tumors and eliminate cancer cells.
Keep in mind that the type of chemotherapy and how long it will take will depend on the patient’s disease and how advanced it is. Options include systemic chemotherapy or direct chemotherapy into the infected areas. If a patient undergoes systematic chemotherapy, medicine is typically either swallowed or injected. The most widely-used chemotherapy drugs consist of:
Chemotherapy results in a range of side effects including hair loss, fever, fatigue, rashes, anemia, body aches, and more. Yet, undergoing chemotherapy is a viable option to extend life expectancy for patients who qualify.
Radiation therapy is a type of therapy in which direct radiation is applied to the cancer cells in the body. Radiation therapy is normally used in combination with other forms of treatment, and has been proven to help patients in all stages of the cancer.
Patients who qualify for radiation therapy can usually expect the pain and the severity of the disease to lessen. However, not all patients will qualify for combination treatments.
There are different types of radiation therapy for mesothelioma patients. Depending upon the severity of the diseases, patients may receive the following forms of treatments:
Brachytherapy: Brachytherapy is used less than all other forms of radiation therapy as it is still being researched. It involves tiny, radioactive seeds being inserted into the affected area. The seeds then send out doses of radiation to the cancerous cells.
Intensity-Modulated Radiation Therapy (IMRT): IMRT is a form of radiation therapy that uses beams of radiation to target cancerous cells. The radiation beams are monitored and controlled so that healthy tissue is not affected. The more severe the cancer is, the higher beams of radiation.
Three-Dimensional Radiation Treatment (3D-CRT): 3D-CRT is similar to the other forms of radiation therapy in that it sends beams of radiation to cancerous cells. However, what sets this form of radiation therapy apart is that the tumors can be seen in 3D, making it easier for physicians to target.
Side effects of radiation include fatigue, nausea, cardiac damage, skin redness, and more.
Multimodal Forms of Therapy
Multimodal therapy is another option for malignant mesothelioma victims. Multimodal therapy works by combining two other forms of treatment together so that patients can extend their life expectancy. Before starting multimodal therapy, physicians will factor in the patient’s history along with any risk factors. As with single forms of treatment, there are no guarantees of success with multimodal therapy. However, if the right combination is used, prognosis is usually much better.
Multimodal therapy began when scientists discovered that combining therapy can help to prolong the survival rate when compared to single forms of therapy alone. After studying a group of patients in the 1980s, scientists and researchers were able to determine that patients who are qualified stand a much better chance of an extended life expectancy when the top forms of treatment are combined.
When determining candidacies for multimodal therapy, physicians look at:
- The stage of the cancer
- The cell type of the cancerous tumor
- Patient medical history
- Complications that may arise
- Lung health of the patient
Many patients opt for alternative treatments, specifically immunotherapy and photodynamic therapy. Immunotherapy tricks the body’s immune system into thinking it should attack tumors while photodynamic therapy helps to kill cancer cells via distinguishing lights and photosensitizing drugs.
Additionally, patients may use follow-up natural forms of treatments such as acupuncture, massage therapy, herbal remedies, and meditation.
A new treatment option that is still being developed is mesotherapy, which entails injections filled with plants, extract, homeopathic agents, and additional ingredients. The mixture is injected into the patient’s adipose fat cells.
Although research and studies is still being done, mesotherapy is said to work best if the patient was exposed to asbestos but has yet to develop mesothelioma. There is currently no FDA-approval for mesotherapy, but scientists hope to develop a breakthrough that will help people who have already been diagnosed with mesothelioma.
The CRS-210 vaccine is another new treatment option that’s still in its clinical trial stages. Physicians injected a weakened form of Listeria monocytogenes into the mesothelioma patient’s system in order to have the immune system attack the disease and prevent cells from producing mesothelin. In clinical studies, the vaccine is usually used in conjunction with traditional treatment medications, such as cisplatin, along with pemetrexed.
The Costs of Mesothelioma Treatments
The expense of treatments plays a large factor in deciding which form of treatment will be used and how. The patient’s location, the ability to consistently travel for treatment if needed, and financial stability all play large roles when it comes to mesothelioma treatment. Keep in mind that aside from surgery, therapy, and other forms of treatment, the cost of equipment, special foods, and other options should be factored in. Assistance may be available through federal government programs and other forms of financial assistance for those who qualify.