The most important thing mesothelioma patients can do to improve their prognosis is find a doctor who understands all the intricacies of this rare but complex cancer.
The right specialist can make a world of difference. The unique characteristics of mesothelioma make it unlike other cancers. It looks and acts differently. And the rarity of it – accounting for only .3 percent of all diagnosed cancers – makes it a mystery to the majority of physicians and oncologists in the country.
You need an expert with experience to treat it effectively.
There are a handful of mesothelioma specialists across the country, most working at prestigious medical centers and hospitals that are equipped with cutting edge technology and involved with the latest research and on-going clinical trials.
These are the doctors who can change a mesothelioma prognosis, refusing to accept the typical gloom-and-doom attitude that often accompanies a diagnosis of mesothelioma. These specialists understand the complex, multi-faceted therapies available now that can give patients a fighting chance against this aggressive cancer.
Best in the Field
Not all doctors are the same, and they all don’t have the same interest in treating mesothelioma, which is difficult to treat successfully. Some on this list are surgeons, while others are pulmonologists or thoracic oncologists. Some treat pleural mesothelioma and others treat the peritoneal variety.
Questions to Ask When Choosing Your Doctor
Even with the help of a Patient Advocate from the Mesothelioma Prognosis Network, choosing the right doctor to escort you through this cancer battle isn’t easy. The important thing, though, is making the right choice for your particular circumstance.
- How many cases of mesothelioma have you treated?
- Have you treated my subtype before?
- What kind of results have you achieved?
- Do you accept my insurance?
- Can you help me enroll in a clinical trial?
- Can you answer my questions by phone or email?
Types of Specialists Involved in Mesothelioma Treatment
Mesothelioma diagnosis and treatment depends on the expertise of many different kinds of medical professionals. Aside from your regular doctor, you may work with the following types of specialists:
- Radiologist: A radiologist performs X-rays, CT scans and other types of imaging scans to find cancer growth, measure how large tumors are, and determine whether tumors are growing or shrinking in response to treatment.
- Pathologist: A pathologist uses various types of chemical dyes to examine cells under a microscope and determine whether they are cancerous and what type of cancer they are.
- Medical Oncologist: A medical oncologist specializes in treating cancer with chemotherapy, immunotherapy and other types of medicine. Most mesothelioma treatment teams are led by a medical oncologist.
- Thoracic Surgeon: Thoracic surgeons are trained to perform complex surgeries in the chest. If you are a candidate for surgery to remove pleural mesothelioma tumors, your thoracic surgeon may be your treatment team leader.
- Surgical Oncologist: Surgical oncologists can specialize in removing peritoneal mesothelioma tumors through surgery and administering intraoperative chemotherapy directly to the abdomen.
- Radiation Oncologist: A radiation oncologist uses radiation therapy to kill cancer cells. Only a highly skilled professional can use the advanced techniques necessary to safely target mesothelioma tumors with radiation.
- Palliative Care Specialist: A palliative care specialist helps patients manage cancer symptoms. Many people confuse palliative care with hospice care, but palliative care is an important support for all patients, no matter what their treatment plan involves.
- Pulmonologist: A pulmonologist can help you strengthen your breathing ability and rehabilitate after pleural mesothelioma treatment.
The Importance of Second Opinions
Getting a second opinion is critical when it comes to improving your mesothelioma prognosis and finding the best treatment available.
As a rare but aggressive cancer, mesothelioma is a virtual mystery to most physicians and many oncologists who rarely see it. Many in the medical community are unaware of the recent advancements being made regarding mesothelioma treatment.
A second and sometimes third opinion, particularly from a mesothelioma specialist, can result in an entirely different outlook toward the disease. It needs to be treated aggressively. The wait-and-see approach, which is used often by those who don’t treat it regularly, is no longer the standard of care.
Survivors and Their Success Stories
Long-term mesothelioma survivors are growing in numbers every day. Gone are the days when a typical patient lived only 6-12 months after a diagnosis. They are living anywhere between two and five years — and beyond.
Sara B., an American living in Bordeaux, France, is in her second year after cytoreductive surgery and hyperthermic intraperitoneal chemotherapy (HIPEC). She is back snow-skiing and jogging again, making plans to return to work.
Rosalie C., who had the aggressive extrapleural pneumonectomy (EPP) surgery in 2011, returned to her family farm in Indiana after spending the winter at her vacation home in Florida that she and her husband purchased a year after she was diagnosed. They will be celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary at home before returning to Florida again next winter.
Andy A. is a four-year pleural mesothelioma survivor living in southern California who credits his good health to an immunotherapy clinical trial that he continues in today. He and his wife are planning a vacation in Australia at the end of the year, and he works now at a local fitness center. He survived a harrowing motorcycle accident 10 years ago, and he expects to survive mesothelioma.
Jacob H. is a five-year peritoneal mesothelioma survivor in Maryland who is back working as a medical device salesman. A former Rugby player, he still takes great pride in his fitness level. He credits much of his recovery to the back-to-back heated chemotherapy treatments he received after surgery.
The last names of the survivors are being withheld because of privacy concerns, but their common bond is they all found a mesothelioma specialist to guide them through treatment.