Mesothelioma is most treatable in the early stages (stages 1 and 2) with multiple curative options. The advanced stage cases (stages 3 and 4) have fewer treatment options, and the focus is on improving a patient’s quality of life.
Mesothelioma specialists can create personalized treatment plans for each patient according to their specific diagnosis. Specialists prescribe treatment options by considering a variety of factors including a patient’s current health, likely prognosis, and personal wishes.
Mesothelioma Treatment Options
There are three main types of mesothelioma treatment. Depending on the location and stage of the cancer, doctors will recommend different treatment options.
Here are common mesothelioma treatment options:
Surgery for mesothelioma involves removing the malignant tumor(s) and the surrounding tissue and organs — either partially or fully — to stop the spread of cancer. Surgery is most often recommended for early-stage patients.
The extrapleural pneumonectomy (removal of diseased lung and pleura) and pleurectomy with decortication (removal of diseased pleura only) are the most common surgical procedures for pleural mesothelioma.
Peritoneal mesothelioma is most often treated surgically by cytoreduction with HIPEC (removal of visible tumors followed by heated chemotherapy application).
Specialized drugs are introduced to circulate throughout the body. This helps kill off mesothelioma cells to prevent them from multiplying and spreading. Chemotherapy is administered in cycles over the course of several weeks or months.
For mesothelioma, a combination of chemotherapy drugs will often be used when surgery is no longer possible. The most common combination is cisplatin and pemetrexed.
According to the National Cancer Institute (NCI), cisplatin is highly useful in treating solid mesothelioma tumors because it stops the cancer cells from dividing. Pemetrexed is often known by its brand name Alimta and works by preventing cancer cells from making DNA.
However, chemotherapy is known to have serious side effects. The combination of cisplatin and pemetrexed can lead to hair loss, nausea, a loss of appetite and acute kidney damage.
As a result, variations of these drugs with less serious side effects were developed. One such drug, carboplatin (a milder form of cisplatin), has been approved for use in mesothelioma patients.
Doctors use high-energy radiation beams aimed directly at the tumor site to shrink the tumors. The radiation beams target mesothelioma cells by interfering with their DNA, preventing them from multiplying and spreading.
According to the NCI, radiation must be done over several days or weeks for it to be most effective. Widespread death of cancer cells will not start until this happens.
Though radiation treatment can be useful in treating mesothelioma, it also damages non-cancerous cells that are nearby the affected area. This can cause serious side effects such as fatigue, hair loss, nausea, diarrhea and problems with swallowing.
These side effects may take weeks or months to subside. Additionally, too much radiation in the body can lead to other health problems. Due to these reasons, radiation is normally used alongside different forms of treatment.
Multimodal Approach for Mesothelioma
Depending on the circumstances, doctors may prescribe multiple types of treatment together.
Using this multimodal approach, doctors administer various treatments in a specific order.
For example, they may recommend an initial radiation treatment to shrink tumors before surgically removing them. Doctors may also surgically remove the tumor first and then administer radiation or chemotherapy.
Mesothelioma Treatment Costs
Unfortunately, these treatments are extremely expensive — even with insurance.
The Cost of Mesothelioma Treatment
Treating mesothelioma can cost upwards of $400,000 to $600,000.
Treatment can lead to years of medical bills and, in some cases, financial bankruptcy. This adds unneeded stress at a time when patients should be able to focus on healing and spending time with loved ones.