Mesothelioma, a rare and often aggressive cancer, is treated in different ways. The traditional mesothelioma treatment approaches include chemotherapy, surgery, and radiation. Often, a combination of the three is used. Newer options are becoming available as well, including immunotherapy and targeted therapy. While we don’t currently view mesothelioma as a curable cancer, it is treatable. Available mesothelioma treatments aim to reduce symptoms, improve quality of life, and extend patients’ lives.
The treatment approach recommended for a patient will depend on many individual and variable factors. These can include the stage of cancer and the person’s overall health.
A treatment plan for mesothelioma is usually also determined by assessing the specific type and diagnosis, which relies on imaging tests and a biopsy.
The term multimodal describes treatment approaches for mesothelioma because plans tend to integrate multiple approaches.
Mesothelioma cancer treatments might begin with surgery when possible, but not every patient is eligible. Your doctor can discuss the options with you, with most patients needing to be in good health overall to be a surgery candidate.
Surgery is well-suited to someone who has removable tumors and a diagnosis of early-stage mesothelioma.
Specific surgical procedures used in the treatment of mesothelioma include:
- Pleurectomy and Decortication: Also known as P/D, the procedure removes the pleura, the lining of the lungs. The surgery also removes visible tumors that are located on the chest wall or lung.
- Extrapleural Pneumonectomy: Called an EPP, this surgery removes an entire lung affected by cancer, as well as the pleural lining, diaphragm, and any tumors visible in the chest cavity.
- Cytoreductive Surgery with Heated Chemotherapy: The HIPEC procedure removes tumors found in the abdominal cavity, and the patient then receives heated chemotherapy, which washes the impacted area. This treatment is usually for peritoneal mesothelioma patients.
- Pleurodesis: A surgical procedure, pleurodesis uses drugs or chemicals to make a scar between the pleura layers. Fluid can be drained from this area with a chest tube or catheter, and a chemical or drug is put into the space. The scarring can stop fluid from building up in the pleural cavity.
While surgery can reduce symptoms, extend survival, and improve quality of life, there are risks such as infection, bleeding, and damage to other tissues surrounding the surgical area.
Mesothelioma treatments can include chemotherapy aimed at killing cancer cells and stopping their growth. It’s considered the standard care approach for a patient ineligible for surgery. Chemo is frequently used with other treatments, and it’s available for any stage of mesothelioma.
Some of the chemo drugs used for mesothelioma treatment include:
Chemotherapy can reduce symptoms and extend survival, but risks include fatigue, nausea, and damage to healthy cells.
Another standard mesothelioma treatment is radiation. Radiation relies on the use of high-energy radiation to shrink tumors and destroy cancerous cells. Even when a patient isn’t eligible for surgery or chemo, they might be able to receive radiation. Radiation is available to patients with localized and more advanced mesothelioma; you may be eligible even if you’ve already undergone surgery.
There are varying approaches to radiation for mesothelioma, including brachytherapy, where radioactive material is placed into or near a tumor. There’s external beam radiation therapy, where a machine directs radiation from outside the body, or the more precise approach, which is stereotactic body radiation therapy.
Tumor Treating Fields (TTFields)
A relatively new mesothelioma treatment option is called Tumor Treating Fields or TTFields. The therapy is administered with Optune Lua, passing gentle electrical fields through the patient’s skin. The goal is to slow the cancerous cell growth and extend survival.
The device can be taken anywhere as it’s portable and can be used for 18 hours daily. It’s the only available at-home mesothelioma treatment.
The Optune Lua is approved by the FDA as a humanitarian use device, meaning it treats rare conditions and doesn’t have to demonstrate effectiveness before approval. It’s also approved for treating pleural mesothelioma, considered inoperable, along with chemo.
The benefits of TTFields include mild side effects and the device’s convenience. It may also improve quality of life and survival.
The use of immunotherapy to treat various types of cancers has become much more common in the past decade. Using your immune system to combat cancer, immunotherapy can help restore your natural defense against mesothelioma.
There are different types of immunotherapy currently being used for treating malignant mesothelioma.
There is immune checkpoint inhibitor therapy. This type of immunotherapy blocks proteins found on some cancer cells. These reduce the immune response, but immunotherapy medications can block the proteins and improve the ability of your own T cells to kill cancer cells. This approach is sometimes used even in advanced mesothelioma.
The two types of immunotherapy currently used to treat mesothelioma are ipilimumab and nivolumab. Also available is interferon, which interrupts cancer cell division, slowing tumor growth.
Targeted therapies use medications and other substances to identify and attack particular cancerous cells.
Monoclonal antibodies are a targeted therapy. They’re lab-made immune system proteins that can treat a lot of diseases, including cancer. When used as cancer treatments, the antibodies can attach to a certain target on cancer cells that help them grow. Given by infusion, monoclonal antibodies can kill cancer cells, prevent their growth, and reduce their ability to spread.
Bevacizumab is a monoclonal antibody used as a treatment for mesothelioma. It binds to the vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) protein, preventing tumors from growing new blood vessels required for growth.
Other monoclonal antibodies are being studied for their effectiveness in treating mesothelioma.
Gene therapy can modify the DNA of a cell to help combat cancer. With some gene therapies, the cells are taken from a patient and altered in a lab before being returned to the patient. For mesothelioma, this is still considered experimental.
CAR T-cell therapy is one gene therapy that trains your immune cells to recognize and then attack tumors.
Currently, you can only access gene therapy for mesothelioma as part of a clinical trial.
Research studies testing new treatments for conditions like mesothelioma are called clinical trials. A clinical trial aims to test how safe and effective procedures or medications are to treat a condition.
If you participate in a clinical trial as a mesothelioma patient, you get access to leading-edge treatments that can improve your outcomes.
Immunotherapy is continuously studied in clinical trials as a treatment for mesothelioma.
If you go to a specialized mesothelioma treatment center, they often have access or do their own clinical trials. In many cases, mesothelioma clinical trials are only available if you’ve already gone through other treatment options, but in some cases are available if you’ve never received any other form of treatment.
Today’s standard cancer treatments are based on previous clinical trials. Besides potentially having better personal outcomes, when you participate in clinical trials, you’re helping pave the way for how mesothelioma will be treated in the future.
With palliative treatment, the goal is to help you feel your best, reduce symptoms, improve your quality of life, and potentially help you live longer. Palliative treatment addresses pain and other complications of cancer.
Palliative treatments include acupuncture, exercise and physical therapy, massage, and meditation. Other palliative treatments for mesothelioma include cognitive behavioral therapy, respiratory therapy, and relaxation techniques.
Palliative treatments can be combined with other treatment approaches.
Multimodal Mesothelioma Treatment
Multimodality therapy or treatment combines approaches to attack your mesothelioma from different angles to improve overall outcomes. Rather than relying on one or sometimes even two treatments, your care team will integrate different treatment options like chemotherapy, surgery, and radiation.
One treatment alone may not control your mesothelioma, but a combination can.
Everyone’s situation will determine how their doctors integrate multimodal therapies into their treatment plan.
Receiving a difficult diagnosis like mesothelioma can be overwhelming, and you may not know where to turn next. First and foremost, you want to explore all of the available mesothelioma cancer treatment options and be prepared to ask your healthcare providers any questions you may have. Specialized care can be a critical need to improve your outcomes.
Even with private or public insurance, mesothelioma treatments can be expensive, and you may have significant out-of-pocket responsibilities.
Currently, the only identified risk factor for developing malignant mesothelioma is asbestos exposure. With that in mind, contacting our law firm of mesothelioma experts can help you recover compensation to cover the costs of your treatment and other related expenses. We only work on asbestos cases and can file a claim against manufacturers of this carcinogenic material. If you’re unsure, we can also identify where your asbestos exposure likely occurred.
Another way we help clients recover compensation is by identifying trust funds they could be eligible for. These funds, set up as asbestos companies were going through bankruptcy proceedings, have money set aside for victims who became ill because of exposure.
We work on a contingency basis, so we’re only paid if you receive compensation. Contact our law firm to learn more about what you deserve to help you as you battle a mesothelioma diagnosis.