With recent medical advancements in technology and treatments, mesothelioma survivors have longer life expectancies than ever before. In decades past, mesothelioma life expectancy was measured in weeks; today, it is measured in months and years in some cases.
When treatments are tailored to the patient’s specific needs, these advancements allow mesothelioma patients to become mesothelioma survivors.
While there are many treatment options for mesothelioma, the most common treatment options are surgery, chemotherapy and radiation, either used individually or together.
Surgery -- Used as a first-line approach to treating mesothelioma, surgery is typically only used the early stages of the disease. There are several surgical options:
- Debulking -- If all the cancer can’t be removed, surgeons work to remove some of the tumors or large portions of the tumors. Removing or reducing the tumors allows doctors to more accurately utilize other treatments to relieve pain or reduce fluid accumulation.
- Decrease Fluid Buildup -- Most types of mesothelioma cause a fluid accumulation between the layers of the mesothelium. In most cases, this fluid accumulation causes discomfort and difficulty breathing. To reduce fluids, doctors insert a tube, called a catheter, in the area and possibly medication to reduce future accumulations.
- Removing Tissue Around the Lungs -- In a pleurectomy, surgeons remove the thin layer of tissue that surrounds the lungs. In a peritonectomy, surgeons remove the tissue around the abdominal cavity.
- Removing Lung and Surrounding Tissue -- Called an Extrapleural pneumonectomy or EEP, the surgeon removes the diseased lung, the membrane surrounding the heart (called the pericardium), part of the diaphragm and some of the membrane lining the chest (called the pleura). Following this surgery, many patients receive radiation treatment as well.
Chemotherapy -- Chemotherapy is a chemical that kills cancer cells. It is used alone or in conjunction with surgery and radiation. There are several types:
- Neoadjuvant Chemotherapy -- Used to shrink tumors before surgery, it allows surgeons to make the distinction between healthy and cancerous tissue. It is known to reduce the amount of healthy tissue removed during surgery.
- Adjuvant Chemotherapy -- Used after surgery, adjuvant chemotherapy is used to reduce the chance the cancer will return. Researchers say that adjuvant chemotherapy kills cancer cells that even the most advanced tests do not detect.
- Hyperthermic Intraperitoneal Chemotherapy - Used in early and advanced stage peritoneal mesothelioma, this treatment uses heated and sterilized chemotherapy to bathe the abdominal area. It is aimed at destroying cancer cells. Heating the solution is known to enhance the power of the chemotherapy. It also allows for high doses of chemotherapy to be administered and the drug to directly meet the damaged area.
- Hyperthermic Intrapleural Chemotherapy -- Similar to Hyperthermic Intraperitoneal Chemotherapy, this is instead used in the chest area or the pleural space. It is aimed at destroying cancer cells for pain relief or further treatment.
Radiation -- This focuses high-energy beams to the specific damaged area. It helps reduce the signs and symptoms of the disease. There are several kinds:
- Brachytherapy -- Also called internal radiation, this type of radiation uses implanted radioactive materials onto or nearby the cancerous tissue.
- External Radiation -- Through a large machine, radioactive beams are delivered to the tumor.
Each day, researchers are developing new treatment to extend the patient’s life expectancy and offer new versions of hope. While many of these treatments are new and on the cutting edge, they have been used with success:
- Immunotherapy -- Also called biologic therapy or biotherapy, this uses the patient’s own immune system to help fight the disease. Researchers think that because some tumors, especially pleural mesothelioma tumors, respond to immunotherapy that the immune system plays a fundamental role in this disease.
- Gene Therapy -- This involves altering the patient’s own genes, located in the body’s cells, to stop the cancerous cells from reproducing. This typically uses a virus as a vector, or a means to enter a cell, with a renewed genetic material for the cell.
- Photodynamic Therapy -- Using a drug called a photosensitizing agent and a specialized wavelength of light, a form of oxygen is produced that ultimately kills nearby cells.
Clinical trials, known as research studies, run in phases, allowing multiple patients to take part. While there is no guarantee that the trials will be curative, they allow patients first access to new treatments and further the treatment options for future mesothelioma patients as well. There are three phases to clinical trials:
- Phase 1 -- This beginning point typically has only about 30 patients and is aimed at finding the safest dose of the medication and how it should be administered.
- Phase 2 -- This is aimed at determining how the new treatment effects the cancer cells and the body overall. There is 100 or fewer patients involved.
- Phase 3 -- This is used to compare the new treatment to the current treatment. There are usually up to 3,000 patients involved.
Phase 4 of a clinical trial is determined after the medication has been released to the market. For more information about the most recent mesothelioma clinical trials, visit http://www.cancer.org/cancer/malignantmesothelioma/overviewguide/malignant-mesothelioma-overview-treating-clinical-trials
Complementary and Alternative treatments
In addition, physicians often utilize Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM) treatment alongside traditional and emerging treatments. While they are often not considered by traditional physician to be curative, they can offer stress reduction and peace of mind. Others believe that these types of treatments are essential to the mind-body connection.
Judy Glezinski, a longtime mesothelioma survivor, expounded successes she had with CAM treatments in her book , “Surviving Mesothelioma - Making Your Own Miracle.” Contact us today for your free, no-obligation copy of this book.
“For Judy, the road didn’t end with the options offered to her by mainstream medicine. Treating her mesothelioma was always a journey rather than a destination.”
- Mayo Clinic. Mesothelioma treatments and drugs. Retrieved from http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/mesothelioma/DS00779/DSECTION=treatments%2Dand%2Ddrugs
- National Cancer Institute. “What Are Clincial Trials?” Retrieved from http://www.cancer.gov/clinicaltrials/learningabout/what-are-clinical-trials
- Cancer Treatment Centers of America. Hyperthermic Intraperitoneal Chemotherapy. Retrieved from http://www.cancercenter.com/conventional-cancer-treatment/chemotherapy/hipec.cfm
- Gregoire, Marc., “What’s the place of immunotherapy in malignant mesothelioma treatments?” U.S. National Library of Medicine. Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2852572/
- Kember, Lorraine, et al. “Surviving Mesothelioma - Making Your Own Miracle.” (2010).