Treatment for mesothelioma typically involves a combination of surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy. In cases where standard treatments do not work, mesothelioma patients may also be able to try experimental treatments through clinical trials.
While no cure currently exists, mesothelioma patients can usually improve their prognosis through some form of treatment. Even in cases where improving lifespan is not viable, palliative care and alternative therapies often help reduce pain and suffering from symptoms for many individuals with mesothelioma.
Standard Mesothelioma Treatments
Important considerations in determining a mesothelioma treatment plan include the cancer stage, primary site affected and cell type. Treatment options also depend on whether the cancer is localized to the chest or has spread to the chest wall, diaphragm, or lymph nodes as well as your age and overall health. The three standard therapies used to treat mesothelioma include surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation.
For patients with an early-stage mesothelioma diagnosis, surgery can be used to remove all or most of the tumor(s). Depending on the tumor location, surgery may include removing the mesothelial lining, one or more lymph nodes, or part or all of a lung or other organ.
Chemotherapy drugs work by attacking fast-growing cells, such as cancer cells. Often used in conjunction with surgery, chemotherapy can kill any remaining mesothelioma cells that the surgeon was unable to remove physically.
Through the use of targeted radiation, mesothelioma tumors can often be shrunk, making them easier to be removed through surgery. Depending on the tumor location, the radiation can be delivered using an external or an internal source.
In many cases, mesothelioma specialists will recommend a multimodal approach, which uses a combination of these three types of treatment. In various studies, multimodal treatment has been shown to be more effective than any of these individual treatments alone. For example, surgery combined with hyperthermic intraperitoneal chemotherapy (HIPEC) applied throughout the chest cavity has resulted in an increase in the life expectancy of peritoneal mesothelioma patients in recent years. Studies have found the 5-year survival rate to be at least 50% with this treatment.
Multimodal treatment typically consists of a primary treatment used in combination with a neoadjuvant therapy (a “helper” treatment before the primary treatment) or an adjuvant treatment (a helper treatment after the primary treatment). For example, one multimodal approach might include:
Neoadjuvant therapy: Radiation to shrink the tumor size
Primary treatment: Surgery, such as pleurectomy, to remove the tumor
Adjuvant therapy: Chemotherapy to kill any remaining cells