Standard Mesothelioma Treatment Options
Standard treatment options for mesothelioma, such as surgery, chemotherapy and radiation therapy, have been proven to extend survival and improve quality of life, giving patients more time with their family and loved ones. Some therapies aim to cure the cancer, while others treat symptoms to make life easier.
Perhaps one of the best ways to improve your survival is to undergo surgery that attempts to remove as much tumor growth as possible.
The standard front-line treatment for unresectable mesothelioma is a combination of two drugs, Alimta (pemetrexed) and cisplatin.
- Radiation Therapy
Radiation therapy is another standard mesothelioma treatment. While doctors rarely offer the technique to peritoneal mesothelioma patients, they often recommend it to pleural patients after surgery.
- Multimodal Therapy
A multimodal approach to treatment is one that combines two or more or the most common therapies. When combined, these treatments can extend survival longer than any single option given on its own.
Pleural Mesothelioma Treatment Options
If you are a pleural mesothelioma patient who qualifies for surgery, your doctor will suggest either an extrapleural pneumonectomy or a pleurectomy and decortication procedure because they offer the greatest chance at significantly improving your survival.
- Extrapleural Pneumonectomy: Also known as EPP, this surgery removes an entire lung, diaphragm and parts of the lining surrounding the chest and heart.
- Pleurectomy and Decortication: This lung-sparing procedure can improve your prognosis and is associated with fewer complications and a better quality of life compared to EPP.
Pleural mesothelioma patients who are not eligible for surgery may undergo chemotherapy or immunotherapy to stabilize tumor growth and improve quality of life.
Peritoneal Mesothelioma Treatment Options
- Cytoreductive Surgery: Peritoneal mesothelioma patients can benefit from cytoreductive surgery, which aims to remove tumors that have spread within the abdomen. Research suggests that complete or near-complete removal of the cancer offers the best chance of survival.
- Heated Intraperitoneal Chemotherapy: Also known as HIPEC or heated chemotherapy, this treatment is administered immediately after cytoreductive surgery while the patient is still on the operating table to deliver chemotherapy directly to the peritoneal lining
Emerging Mesothelioma Treatments
Emerging treatments help mesothelioma patients live longer, better lives. Pleural and peritoneal mesothelioma patients can access emerging treatments, such as immunotherapy, through clinical trials.
One emerging treatment, Tumor Treating Fields, is already approved to treat mesothelioma in combination with chemotherapy.
Clinical trials offer patients a chance at trying a new therapy that isn’t on the market yet. Some mesothelioma patients have lived for years thanks to joining a clinical trial that happened to work well for them.
Tumor Treating Fields
In 2019, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved Tumor Treating Fields for the treatment of pleural mesothelioma. It is administered in combination with chemotherapy, and it can add six months of survival to the average one-year prognosis.
Other Emerging Treatments
Because mesothelioma lacks a definitive cure and is likely to return after treatment, researchers are always striving to discover newer and better therapies.
- Gene Therapy
During gene therapy, doctors may use a modified virus to repair or replace defective genes. Another approach introduces proteins called cytokines that can boost a patient’s immune system to attack the cancer, much like immunotherapy.
- Suicide Gene Therapy
This treatment causes cancer cells to self-destruct. It seems to be the most promising gene therapy for mesothelioma.
Immunotherapy empowers a patient’s immune system to fight the cancer on its own. Early studies on immunotherapy drugs show great potential, and patients are already seeing promising results. Most immunotherapies are available through clinical trials or compassionate use programs.
Importance of Mesothelioma Specialists and Cancer Centers
The importance of working with a mesothelioma specialist at a cancer center that has a multidisciplinary team of mesothelioma experts cannot be understated.
Mesothelioma specialists have spent years focusing their practice and research on mesothelioma and dedicating their careers to helping people with this rare cancer. They know the disease inside and out, and they are on the forefront of emerging treatments and clinical trials.
Some of the top mesothelioma specialists in the nation include Dr. Abraham “Avi” Lebenthal at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, Dr. Robert Cameron at the Pacific Meso Center in Los Angeles and Dr. Jacques Fontaine at the Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa.
Working with them at top-notch treatment centers is the best chance you have at improving your prognosis. Some centers, including Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City, has a team of doctors from different disciplines, such as pathologists, radiologists, pulmonologists and thoracic surgeons, who customize treatments for mesothelioma patients.
Survivor Experience with Mesothelioma Treatment
In 2002, Tim C. developed pleural mesothelioma. After learning about the disease’s grim prognosis, Tim thought it would be pointless to put himself through radical treatments such as surgery and chemotherapy. It took a powerful letter from his daughter to change his mind. Soon after, he traveled to Boston for an extrapleural pneumonectomy, which gave him another 10-plus years with his family.
When Trina C. was diagnosed with peritoneal mesothelioma in 2001, her doctor told her she only had a year to live. Hoping to improve her prognosis, Trina underwent multimodal therapy with cytoreductive surgery, HIPEC and radiation therapy. Trina is now a mesothelioma survivor of more than 17 years.
After being diagnosed with mesothelioma in 2013, Army veteran Billy K. vowed to beat the cancer. Billy underwent three rounds of chemotherapy but decided to embrace alternative therapy with moringa extract over surgery and radiation. His last CT scan showed no signs of cancer.
Palliative & Complementary Mesothelioma Treatments
Not all treatment options aim to cure the cancer. Your doctor may also recommend one or more palliative treatments that focus only on alleviating pain or other symptoms that reduce your quality of life.
You can also talk to your oncologist about complementary therapies that boost your health and are safe for you to use while you undergo cancer treatment. Some cancer centers offer integrative oncology programs that provide complementary therapies such as yoga classes, meditation classes and acupuncture.
Getting Help with Treatment Costs
Affording mesothelioma treatment isn’t easy for everyone. Thankfully, financial aid, grants and other forms of mesothelioma compensation are available to people and families facing this disease.
Estimated Costs of Mesothelioma Treatment
- Chemotherapy can cost about $40,000 for those without insurance.
- Surgery is also expensive, with estimates around $26,000 for lung surgeries.
- A course of radiation therapy may cost around $9,000.
Travel grants and medical grants help patients afford transportation costs to get to a distant cancer center and afford the cost of medical care. Additionally, other forms of financial aid are available such as Social Security Disability, VA benefits, legal claims and asbestos trust funds.
Mesothelioma Treatment Plan
- Step 1 | Get a Diagnosis
Once you receive your official diagnosis, your oncologist will tailor a treatment plan to the specifics of your diagnosis.
- Step 2 | Find a Specialist
Unless you were already diagnosed by an experienced mesothelioma specialist, you need to find an expert to review your case and oversee your treatment. Most oncologists don’t have enough experience to treat mesothelioma the way a specialist does.
- Step 3 | Follow Tailored Treatment Plan
Make sure you adhere to your doctor’s treatment plan by attending every appointment for therapy, tests and follow-up scans. Take the medications you are prescribed and follow all of your doctor’s orders regarding how to take care of your health and what constitutes an emergency.