Mesothelioma is considered incurable, but treatments can provide hope. For example, if mesothelioma is detected in its earliest stages, surgery may be an option. More than 15 percent of patients who undergo surgical procedures to treat mesothelioma — including pleurectomy (the removal of the outer lining of the lung) or extrapleural pneumonectomy (the removal of the lung and its lining) — achieve remission and can extend their lives by five or more years.
In addition to surgery, chemotherapy and radiation may be administered to prolong a patient’s life. This is especially the case if the cancer is treated in its early stages, before the tumor has spread. Often, doctors recommend a combination of these therapies, which are proven to be the most effective solutions against mesothelioma.
These treatment methods can also help relieve symptoms, including pain and difficulty breathing. One of the most common symptoms of mesothelioma is pleural effusion, which is a buildup of fluid within the chest cavity. This can restrict breathing function and cause intense chest pain. Another problem is that the tumor itself can grow to encase the mesothelium like a rind, making the breathing process very labored and painful. Most therapies are given to address these problems and make the patient more comfortable but not to remove the cancer.
While chemotherapy and radiation also can relieve the patient’s pain, some patients — especially those whose cancer is more advanced — are too weak to undergo these methods. Alternatively, they feel that the often debilitating side effects may not be worth the benefits.
In those cases, another option is a thoracentesis, a minor surgical procedure that removes excess fluid from the pleural space. The pleural space can be actually fused together with chemicals such as talc, preventing the build-up from occurring. A paracentesis is similar in that is removes fluid from the abdomen.
Alternative and Experimental Treatments
A growing number of mesothelioma patients are turning to alternative therapies to help improve their quality of life and counterbalance the side effects of more traditional treatments. Acupuncture, nutritional or herbal supplements, massage, and hypnotherapy are all popular. Another approach, called Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation, or TENS, can alleviate pain. TENS therapy is non-invasive, non-addictive, easy to administer, and portable.
Experimental treatments for mesothelioma are currently being studied and tested in clinical trials. Some of the most promising include:
- immunotherapy, which employs the body’s own immune system against mesothelioma,
- gene therapy, involving the manipulation of the body’s genes to replace missing or defective ones that contribute to the development of the cancer, and
- photodynamic therapy, which uses a combination of laser light and photodynamic chemical agents to destroy cancerous cells.
Additionally, many chemotherapy drugs are currently in the development and testing process that may one day be approved for use in the treatment of mesothelioma.
The most important thing to remember is not to give up. There is hope for your condition.