Mesothelioma is an incurable disease. However, if mesothelioma cancer is diagnosed early the patient's quality and length of life may be greatly increased. Unfortunately, mesothelioma generally lies somewhat dormant for years after a victim is exposed to asbestos; some patients do not show symptoms until up to 40 years or more after asbestos exposure.
Mesothelioma is, in most cases, fatal. In fact, most patients die within just two years of diagnosis. However, researchers are working hard to develop new treatments and perhaps even a cure for the disease. Treatments for mesothelioma have improved over the past few years.
Mesothelioma Treatment Options
The following are the current standard treatments for malignant mesothelioma:
- Surgery: Invasive techniques remove the cancerous tissues from the body
- Radiation treatments: External or internal devices used to shrink cancer in the patient
- Chemotherapy: a series of pills or injections that cause the tumor to discontinue reproducing
- Photodynamic therapy
- Gene therapy
- Removal of fluid accumulation from the chest
In addition to the above mesothelioma treatments, there are additional mesothelioma cancer clinical trials being conducted to help patients with the disease. If you or a loved one is suffering from mesothelioma, there is hope.
Many surviving patients claim that the most powerful treatment for mesothelioma cancer, or any terminal condition, is a good attitude and appreciation of life. Medical research has proven the benefits of a positive attitude against disease; patients with positive outlooks show increased immune activity, more energy, and are more independent than those who remain isolated and in depression.
Malignant mesothelioma chemotherapy treatment uses anticancer drugs to eliminate cancer cells. There are roughly 50 different drugs that are used independently or in combination to treat cancer. A handful of these drugs has been found to help increase survival times in malignant mesothelioma patients. Overall, chemotherapy is not a highly effective treatment for mesothelioma. At this point, no stand-alone mesothelioma treatment has had great success against the disease. Combining mesothelioma cancer surgery with either chemotherapy or radiation therapy in treating malignant mesothelioma has yielded the best chances of increased survival. This is especially true when mesothelioma cancer is discovered earlier in its development
How Chemotherapy Treats Malignant Mesothelioma
Chemotherapy drugs interfere with malignant mesothelioma cancer cells' ability to divide and reproduce. Instead, the cells become damaged and die. Because chemotherapy drugs flow through the bloodstream, they reach cancer cells all over the body. These drugs are also toxic to healthy tissues, so chemotherapy must be planned so that it slowly kills the cancer and not normal cells. Following successful chemotherapy, the normal tissue will recover, but the malignant mesothelioma cells will not.
Chemotherapy drugs are given in many different ways. The manner in which you may receive mesothelioma treatment will vary according to your type of cancer and the drugs you are taking. The most common method of delivery is by injection into a vein. Less commonly used methods include oral tablets, muscular injection, or subcutaneous (under the skin) injection.
There are two options for administering chemotherapy treatment:
In intravenous injection, the mesothelioma treatment drugs are often diluted with liquid and delivered from a bag via a 'drip' into a vein in your arm or hand. Another method of delivery is to insert a plastic tube directly into a vein in the chest. Two potential problems with the intravenous method are the risk of tube blockage and infection. The plastic delivery tube should be flushed with Heparin, a drug that prevents clotting about once a week. You will be able to do this yourself. Intravenous chemotherapy is given over a period of time, usually ranging from half an hour to a few hours, or sometimes a few days.
A fairly new and increasingly common method of delivery is the infusion pump. The pumps are portable and are used to deliver a controlled amount of drugs into the bloodstream over a period of time. This means that you may take your mesothelioma treatment at home and make fewer trips to the hospital.
Chemotherapy Side Effects
Even though chemotherapy can cause unpleasant side effects, some people still manage to lead normal lives. Sometimes chemotherapy can actually make you feel better by alleviating the effects of the cancer. Unfortunately, the drugs can affect normal cells as well as malignant mesothelioma tissue. This can cause many unpleasant side effects. Not all chemotherapy drugs cause the same side effects, however, and some people may have very few. Cancer treatments produce different reactions in different people. Reactions also vary from treatment to treatment. It should be remembered that nearly all side effects are only temporary and will disappear once treatment has stopped.
Body parts that may be affected by chemotherapy in malignant mesothelioma treatment are those whose normal cells rapidly divide and grow. These areas are the mouth, digestive system, skin, hair, and bone marrow.
If you would like to know more about chemotherapy, side effects or additional malignant mesothelioma information, ask your doctor. Although the side effects of chemotherapy can be severe, they should be weighed against the benefit they can produce. Remember, if you are feeling violently ill, your doctor may be able to prescribe other drugs with fewer or less potent side effects.
Hair loss is perhaps the best-known side effect of chemotherapy. This can vary according to which medication you happen to be taking. Some people lose very little or no hair, others most or all of it. If you happen to lose your hair during chemotherapy for mesothelioma treatment, it will grow back after treatment has subsided.
Feelings of sickness are a side effect linked with some chemotherapy. Many people do not become sick from their chemotherapy, nor does every drug cause it. There are now some treatments available to alleviate this sickness. Steroids and other anti-sickness drugs are often given. Some chemotherapy drugs can affect the lining of the digestive system and this may cause diarrhea for a few days. Some people may lose their appetite. Medical marijuana can help restore your appetite and relieve pain.
Bone Marrow Deficiencies
Bone marrow contains cells that develop into three different types of cells. The three types are white blood cells, red blood cells, and platelets. Chemotherapy during mesothelioma treatment can reduce the number of these cells. When the number of these cells is reduced, the body's ability to recover from illness and repair itself is greatly hindered.
- White Blood Cells: If the number of white blood cells in your blood is low you will be more prone to infection as there are fewer white cells to fight off bacteria.
- Red Blood Cells: If the level of red blood cells in your blood is low you may become very tired and lethargic.
- Platelets: If the number of platelets in your blood is low you may bruise very easily and suffer from nosebleeds or bleed heavily from even minor cuts or grazes.
Chemotherapy treatment for malignant mesothelioma can cause infertility in both men and women. This infertility may be temporary or permanent, depending on the drugs you are taking. It is important to discuss this risk with your doctor before starting a treatment.
It is quite possible for a woman undergoing chemotherapy mesothelioma treatment, or the female partner of a man undergoing therapy, to become pregnant. This should be avoided, as the drugs may affect the baby. It is imperative that patients use appropriate birth control to avoid any complications during treatment.
Most drugs chemotherapy drugs used for malignant mesothelioma treatment will not affect your fertility, but some may temporarily stop ovulation. Some drugs will induce an artificial menopause. Many doctors will prescribe hormones to alleviate the effects of this.
Most drugs will not affect your fertility. Those that do affect it will do so by reducing the amount of sperm you produce, the motility of the sperm, as well as sperm morphology. This means that fathering children during treatment is unlikely. You will, however, be able to achieve erection and orgasm normally.
Radiation Therapy for Mesothelioma
Radiation therapy kills cancerous cells that are growing and dividing in an uncontrolled manner - it will destroy normal as well as abnormal cells. Therefore, careful planning is necessary to limit the amount of normal tissue that is destroyed.
Types of Radiation Therapy
Radiation therapy is given either externally or internally:
- External radiation can be delivered via a linear accelerator, which uses electricity to create radiation, or by a machine that uses a radioactive substance as its radiation source.
- Internal radiation is either "sealed" or "unsealed." Unsealed radiation is given orally or through an injection. Sealed radiation is delivered through an implant in the form of seeds, capsules, needles, or wires.
External radiation therapy for malignant mesothelioma, which is performed at least five days per week for several weeks, is usually an outpatient procedure, while internal radiation is usually an inpatient procedure. Internal radiation therapy usually requires a hospital stay of three to seven days.
Side Effects from Radiation Treatment
Most patients undergoing radiation therapy for mesothelioma treatment will suffer from side effects. Side effects can be either acute or chronic and vary from patient to patient.
Acute Side Effects
Acute side effects occur during this form of mesothelioma treatment and can include:
- Skin reactions
- Shortness of breath
Chronic Side Effects
Chronic side effects occur months to years after the radiation therapy is administered. These side effects vary and should be explained fully by your physician before treatment begins. Blood count levels will also be closely monitored after treatment of malignant mesothelioma with radiation. A low white blood cell count decreases a patient's ability to fight off infection, while a low red blood cell count can result in anemia. Additionally, a low platelet count increases the chance of excessive bleeding.
- Low White Blood Count: If a patient has a low white blood cell count they are urged to check their temperature at least four times per day to make sure they are not running a fever. In addition, patients should eliminate uncooked foods from their diet, avoid fresh flowers and plants, and avoid dental work.
- Low Red Blood Count: If a patient has a low red blood cell count they are urged to get a lot of sleep and avoid strenuous activity. In addition, patients should eat a diet high in iron, drink a lot of water, and avoid caffeine.
- Low Platelet Count: If a patient has a low platelet count they are urged to avoid activity that could result in injury. In addition, patients should avoid aspirin and other over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medications.
This information is meant to provide a brief overview of radiation therapy and its side effects. It is important that you consult a physician to discuss malignant mesothelioma treatment specific to your case.
Surgical Mesothelioma Treatment
There are several types of surgery that can be performed on pleural mesothelioma patients:
The first is called pleurodesis, which involves draining the fluid from the lungs and applying talcum powder or some other material that causes the lung to scar and adhere to the chest wall. This prevents the lung from collapsing when the fluid begins to build up again.
The second type of surgery is called a pleurectomy; in this surgery, the chest is opened and the tumor is removed from the lung.
The third type of surgery is called an extrapleural pneumonectomy, and involves the removal of the lung, the diaphragm, and the covering of the heart. The heart covering and diaphragm are then replaced with gortex.
For people diagnosed with the rarer peritoneal mesothelioma, there is one surgical mesothelioma treatment available.
A peritonectomy can only be performed in the earliest stages of the peritoneal mesothelioma. This is a risky procedure for mesothelioma treatment involving the removal of all, or a large portion of the peritoneum to rid the body of cancer tissue.
Following surgery, the patient will undergo chemotherapy and then radiation therapy mesothelioma treatment in an attempt to destroy any remaining cancer cells.
Mesothelioma Life Expectancy
Prognosis for malignant mesothelioma is still considered poor, but it is improving. There was a time when mesothelioma patients were not expected to survive for very long. Now, if stage one patients receive prompt and aggressive mesothelioma treatment, approximately 50 percent of them will live another five years. Stage two patients can expect to live another two to four years. Stage three patients have a life expectancy of six to eight months and for stage four patients it is even less.
Find a Mesothelioma Attorney
You may be able to hold accountable those responsible for your suffering by seeking the advice of a qualified mesothelioma lawyer.