Mesothelioma

Mesothelioma is a deadly and incurable cancer caused by asbestos exposure. It develops when asbestos fibers get stuck in the lining of the lungs, abdomen, or heart. Common symptoms include shortness of breath and tightness in the chest. Mesothelioma has a poor prognosis and an average life expectancy of about 12 months after diagnosis. Treatments, such as surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation, may help improve prognosis.

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What Is Mesothelioma?

Malignant (cancerous) mesothelioma is a rare form of cancer that typically develops in the lining (mesothelium) of the lungs or abdomen. In rare cases, mesothelioma tumors can also grow in the linings of the heart or testicles.

Mesothelioma takes anywhere from 20-50 years to develop after a patient is exposed to asbestos. However, once it begins to grow or spread (metastasize), it does so quickly.

There is no cure for mesothelioma, but medical treatments may extend a patient’s life and improve its quality.

Quick Facts About Mesothelioma

  • Only around 3,000 people are diagnosed with mesothelioma every year in the United States, whereas doctors diagnose over 200,000 lung cancer cases annually.
  • The only known cause of mesothelioma is asbestos exposure.
  • The average life expectancy for someone with mesothelioma is 12-21 months.
  • According to the American Cancer Society, only about 10% of pleural mesothelioma patients survive 5 years after diagnosis.
  • The longest-known mesothelioma survivor in the world is Paul Kraus. He has lived for over 20 years since diagnosis and is also a Holocaust survivor.

Types of Mesothelioma

There are four types of mesothelioma. Each type occurs in a different part of the body.

Types of Mesothelioma

Area of Occurrence

Rarity

Pleural Mesothelioma

Lining of the lungs and chest 70-85% of mesothelioma cases

Peritoneal Mesothelioma

Lining of the abdomen 10-25% of mesothelioma cases

Pericardial Mesothelioma

Lining of the heart 1% of mesothelioma cases

Testicular Mesothelioma

Lining of the testicles <1% of mesothelioma cases

The type of mesothelioma that a patient has helps doctors determine the general outlook of their disease and what kind of treatments they should receive.

Pleural Mesothelioma

Malignant pleural mesothelioma affects the protective lining that covers the chest cavity and lungs (pleura). It is the most common type of mesothelioma, accounting for roughly 81% of all cases, according to the American Cancer Society (ACS).

The ACS also reports that only 10% of pleural mesothelioma patients survive 5 years after diagnosis, but advancements in treatment are constantly improving the outlook for this disease.

Peritoneal Mesothelioma

Cancer that develops in the lining of the abdomen (peritoneum) is known as peritoneal mesothelioma. It is the second most common form of mesothelioma, affecting 10-20% of all patients.

Peritoneal mesothelioma has one of the highest survival rates of any type, with roughly 18% of peritoneal mesothelioma patients living 5 years after diagnosis, according to the ACS.

Pericardial Mesothelioma

Pericardial tumors form in the pericardium, the lining surrounding the heart. Pericardial mesothelioma accounts for less than 1% of all cases.

Unfortunately, because it is so rare and so close to the delicate heart, pericardial mesothelioma has a low life expectancy, with patients living a median of only 6 months after diagnosis.

Testicular Mesothelioma

Mesothelioma may occasionally develop in the lining of the testicles (tunica vaginalis), a condition known as testicular mesothelioma. This cancer is extremely rare, with only around 100 cases ever reported, according to a literature review published in the journal Molecular and Clinical Oncology.

However, compared to other types, testicular mesothelioma patients have high survival rates. 49% can expect to live at least 5 years after diagnosis. The median survival time of testicular mesothelioma patients after diagnosis is 23 months.

Mesothelioma Cell Types

Mesothelioma tumors are made up of cancerous cells. However, not all mesothelioma cancer cells are the same.

Some mesothelioma cell types respond better to treatment than others. Doctors use this variation in cell type to help determine a patient’s overall disease outlook and treatment plan.

Learn more about the main mesothelioma cell types below.

Epithelioid

This is the most common malignant mesothelioma cell type, making up roughly 60% of mesothelioma tumors. Compared to the other cell types, epithelioid cells divide at a slower rate, making them easier for doctors to treat.

Sarcomatoid

Sarcomatoid cells grow at a faster rate than epithelioid cells and do not appear as frequently, making up 20% of tumors. The sarcomatoid mesothelioma cell type is also easily mistaken for other types of cancer.

For these reasons, it is harder for doctors to treat sarcomatoid mesothelioma.

Biphasic

Some mesothelioma tumors contain both epithelioid and sarcomatoid cells. When both cells are present, the tumor is said to be biphasic. This happens in about 20% of mesothelioma cases.

To treat a biphasic tumor, doctors will study the tumor to see which type of cell is more common. If more epithelioid cells are present, the tumor will likely be easier to treat because it will not grow as quickly.

Mesothelioma Causes

While researchers are studying other potential causes of mesothelioma, asbestos exposure is the only confirmed cause of this deadly cancer.

From the 1920s until the 1980s, asbestos was widely used in blue-collar industries and the military. As early as the 1930s, claims of asbestos-related health risks began to surface but were ignored.

Manufacturers were warned of the risks that people faced when working with asbestos or using asbestos-containing products. One serious warning was increased evidence of a link to cancer.

However, these manufacturers hid the truth, knowing they could make a huge profit selling asbestos-based products during World War II. Their greed has led to thousands of preventable deaths.

How Does Asbestos Cause Mesothelioma?

Asbestos fibers are released into the air when disturbed and settle on nearby surfaces. Unsuspecting victims may breathe in or swallow these microscopic fibers.

Once inside a person’s body, the fibers can embed themselves deep into the tissue lining of various organs and make their way to other organs.

The following steps show how asbestos exposure causes mesothelioma:

  1. A product or piece of equipment with asbestos is handled.
  2. The asbestos fibers in these products are disturbed and released into the air.
  3. Individuals nearby inhale or ingest the airborne fibers.
  4. The fibers become stuck inside the tissue lining a person’s organs.
  5. Over time, these fibers irritate nearby cells, causing cancerous tumors to grow.

Rapid tumor growth damages the affected organs, preventing them from functioning properly. If the spread of cancer is not stopped, it will become fatal.

Other Mesothelioma Causes

Although exposure to asbestos is the only known cause of mesothelioma, not all mesothelioma cases have been traced back to asbestos exposure.

There may be other, far less common causes of mesothelioma, but studies are limited and largely inconclusive.

It is also possible that some individuals were exposed to asbestos unknowingly. In rare cases, individuals may be exposed to asbestos in the natural environment, which may be difficult to trace.

People exposed to asbestos may also carry the fibers home with them on their hair and clothes, leading to the secondary exposure of loved ones.

Who Is at Risk for Mesothelioma?

Anyone who has come into contact with asbestos may be at risk for mesothelioma. The United States Department of Labor emphasizes that there is no “safe” level of asbestos exposure. Exposure levels as brief as one day have resulted in mesothelioma.

However, some people are at a greater risk than others.

Those with a higher risk of mesothelioma include:

  • Blue-collar workers
  • Veterans
  • Family members and loved ones

The first two groups have historically been the most likely to work directly with asbestos or in an environment where it was heavily used.

Blue-Collar Workers

Many jobs — particularly industrial and blue-collar occupations — put workers in direct contact with asbestos. Since asbestos had many useful properties, a wide variety of industries relied on it.

High-risk occupations for asbestos exposure include:

  • Construction workers
  • Factory workers
  • Firefighters
  • Insulators
  • Mechanics
  • Shipbuilders

Many of these occupations exposed workers to asbestos on a daily basis. Because of this, they are more likely to develop mesothelioma decades later.

Veterans

Historically, asbestos was widely used by the military, increasing the link between mesothelioma and veterans.

From the 1930s to the 1980s, the military relied on asbestos-containing products to make its ships, bases, and vehicles resistant to enemy fire. In the process, thousands of military service members were exposed to asbestos.

The military did not know asbestos was dangerous because the companies who made and sold asbestos-containing products concealed the truth.

Today, 1 out of every 3 people diagnosed with mesothelioma is a veteran.

The following military branches used asbestos:

  • Air Force
  • Army
  • Coast Guard
  • Marine Corps
  • Navy

Navy veterans have the highest risk of developing mesothelioma because asbestos-containing products were used heavily throughout Navy ships.

Family and Loved Ones

The family and loved ones of industrial workers and veterans are also at risk of developing mesothelioma. While they did not directly handle asbestos products, they may have suffered secondhand exposure.

When asbestos is disturbed, its tiny fibers are released into the air and can get stuck to nearby surfaces without notice. This includes uniforms, hair, and tools used by workers.

Workers could then bring these asbestos fibers into their homes without realizing it, exposing other household members.

A 2013 review published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health reported cases of wives developing mesothelioma after decades of washing their husbands’ clothes.

Mesothelioma Symptoms

Often, mesothelioma symptoms are mild and vague in the early stages of the disease, making the cancer hard to diagnose. In some cases, patients may not even be aware that anything is wrong until their mesothelioma is quite advanced.

Common symptoms of mesothelioma include:

  • Blood in stool
  • Bloody sputum
  • Cough
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Fatigue
  • Fever
  • Fluid buildup in the affected area
  • Loss of appetite
  • Night sweats
  • Rib pain
  • Shortness of breath
  • Shoulder pain
  • Upper back pain
  • Vomiting blood

Different types of mesothelioma tend to exhibit symptoms based on their location in the body. Symptoms usually intensify as the cancer advances.

Individuals with a history of asbestos exposure who are experiencing any of the symptoms listed above should make an appointment with a mesothelioma cancer specialist as soon as possible.

Pleural Mesothelioma Symptoms

Since pleural mesothelioma forms in the lining of the lungs, its symptoms often affect the respiratory system.

Common pleural mesothelioma symptoms include:

  • Chest pain
  • Chronic cough
  • Painful coughing
  • Shortness of breath
  • Tightness in the chest
  • Weakness

In the early stages of pleural mesothelioma, mild symptoms may be mistaken for other ailments. These symptoms can resemble the flu, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), or even the common cold.

As the cancer progresses, tumors cause the lining of the lungs to thicken, stopping the lungs from expanding fully. This can prevent a patient from being able to take a deep breath.

Peritoneal Mesothelioma Symptoms

Like pleural mesothelioma, early-stage peritoneal mesothelioma often causes non-specific symptoms that make it hard to diagnose.

Common peritoneal mesothelioma symptoms include:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Bloating
  • Fatigue
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Reduced appetite
  • Unexplained weight loss

These common symptoms are mild at first, but as tumors develop, symptoms become more noticeable.

Some patients with peritoneal mesothelioma have been misdiagnosed with conditions such as a ventral hernia, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), and ovarian cancer.

Pericardial Mesothelioma Symptoms

Pericardial mesothelioma symptoms tend to resemble signs of more common heart problems, such as heart disease.

Common pericardial mesothelioma symptoms include:

  • Chest pain
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Fatigue
  • Heart murmurs
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Shortness of breath

Symptoms will worsen over time as the lining of the heart thickens and fluid builds up beneath the lining.

Testicular Mesothelioma Symptoms

Little is known about testicular mesothelioma. However, doctors have noted a few common symptoms.

Common testicular mesothelioma symptoms include:

  • Inflammation or thickening of the testicular lining
  • Swelling of the testicles

Patients rarely experience pain or other symptoms besides swelling. Doctors may misdiagnose this form of mesothelioma as a groin hernia or similar condition.

Mesothelioma Diagnosis

Getting an accurate mesothelioma diagnosis from a mesothelioma specialist is essential to receiving effective treatment. Armed with an accurate diagnosis, these specialized doctors can develop treatment plans that may extend a patient’s life.

Doctors usually take multiple steps to diagnose mesothelioma:
  • Patient Examination and Medical History Review

    Patients who have symptoms of mesothelioma can undergo a physical examination of their symptoms. Patients should tell their doctor about any history of asbestos exposure. If the doctor is concerned, they will often request an imaging scan of the area of the patient’s body where they are experiencing symptoms.

  • Imaging Scans

    Imaging scans such as X-rays, computed tomography (CT) scans, and magnetic resonance imaging scans (MRIs) allow a physician to see whether there is a tumor growing in the patient’s body or other abnormalities. Doctors often require several scans to rule out other illnesses. While these scans are valuable, mesothelioma cannot be diagnosed by an imaging scan alone. To reach a proper diagnosis, doctors must conduct a biopsy.

  • Biopsies

    If imaging scans reveal an existing tumor or questionable mass, doctors will order a biopsy. During a biopsy, doctors remove a tissue sample from the tumor, either through surgery or by inserting a special needle into the affected area. This sample is studied under a microscope to see if cancer cells are present. Sometimes a sample of fluid may contain enough cancer cells to make a diagnosis.

Even with diagnostic tools, mesothelioma can be difficult to tell apart from other cancers — even for experienced oncologists (cancer doctors).

Mesothelioma Misdiagnosis

Because of its vague symptoms and rare occurrence, mesothelioma is easily misdiagnosed. Even under a microscope, mesothelioma can be very difficult to tell apart from other diseases.

Many doctors have no previous experience with mesothelioma, making misdiagnosis even more likely.

A misdiagnosis may lead to months of wasted time and thousands of wasted dollars in unneeded — or even harmful — treatment. In the case of mesothelioma, which advances very quickly, patients cannot afford to delay treatment by months.

This is why it is so important for patients to get a second opinion from a mesothelioma specialist.

Getting a Second Opinion

Getting a second opinion from a mesothelioma specialist has several benefits.

Second opinions may help patients:

  • Be confident in their treatment strategy
  • Better understand their mesothelioma
  • Connect with the world’s top mesothelioma specialists
  • Improve their survival outcome
  • Lower the chance of misdiagnosis

No patient or their family should ever hesitate to seek the opinion of an experienced mesothelioma doctor after receiving a diagnosis.

Mesothelioma Stages

As part of a diagnosis, doctors will determine how far mesothelioma has spread throughout a patient’s body. This information will give both patient and doctor a better idea of the patient’s disease outlook and best treatment options. In many cases, this is done through a staging system.

There are four stages of pleural mesothelioma under the Tumor Node Metastasis (TNM) staging system, ranging from the early stage 1 all the way to advanced stage 4. A patient’s overall survival time and health are typically worse in the later stages of the disease.

Only pleural mesothelioma has an official staging system because there is not enough information about other types of melanoma to design a staging system for them.

However, recently, a “TNM” staging system for peritoneal mesothelioma was proposed by Professor Tristan D. Yan in 2011. This system divides peritoneal mesothelioma progression into four stages, adjusting for the type’s tendency to remain in the abdomen rather than spreading to distant parts of the body.

For other types of malignant mesothelioma, doctors will simply say the cancer is localized (early and remaining in the area it originated in) or advanced (spreading deep into the tissues and possibly to distant parts of the body).

Stage 1 Mesothelioma

During stage 1 mesothelioma, tumors are typically contained to one side of the pleura. The cancer has not spread deeper into the lung tissue or to other parts of the chest.

If they are in good health, patients diagnosed during stage 1 can usually undergo the most effective curative (life-extending) treatment options available.

Stage 2 Mesothelioma

During stage 2 mesothelioma, the cancer has begun to spread past the lining of the affected lung into the tissues beneath. It also spreads to nearby lymph nodes. However, it is still mostly contained in one area and on one side of the body.

Patients diagnosed with stage 2 mesothelioma can still usually be approached surgically with the intent for a cure.

Stage 3 Mesothelioma

In stage 3 mesothelioma, tumors can be found throughout the lungs and in nearby lymph nodes.

In most cases, patients can no longer undergo curative surgeries. However, they still may still benefit from chemotherapy and radiation.

Palliative (symptom-reducing) treatments may help stage 3 mesothelioma patients live more comfortably.

Stage 4 Mesothelioma

By the time a patient has stage 4 mesothelioma, the cancer has spread to distant areas like the abdomen and bone. Patients diagnosed during this stage typically have limited treatment options, but palliative care can help reduce painful symptoms.

Mesothelioma Prognosis

A mesothelioma prognosis is the overall outlook for the cancer, affecting a patient’s treatment options and life expectancy. Because mesothelioma is a fast-spreading form of cancer often diagnosed in the later stages, most patients have a poor prognosis.

Only a small percentage of mesothelioma patients will ever achieve long-term survival. For example, the American Cancer Society notes that only 10% of patients with pleural mesothelioma will still be alive 5 years after their diagnosis. Other mesothelioma types vary widely in their outlooks.

The table below compares the percentage of patients, organized by mesothelioma type, who survived at least 5 years after diagnosis. Data was pulled from various medical literature reviews.

Mesothelioma 5-Year Survival Rate

Pleural

10%

Peritoneal

18%
Pericardial

9%

Testicular

49%

However, many factors impact a patient’s prognosis.

Factors that influence a patient’s prognosis include:

  • Tumor location: Some types of mesothelioma are easier to operate on because of where the tumor grows in the body. For example, pericardial mesothelioma has a particularly poor prognosis because its location near the heart makes it difficult to surgically remove the tumors or to treat them with radiation.
  • Cell type: Mesothelioma progresses at different rates depending on what type of cancer cells make up the tumor(s). Epithelioid cells tend to have the best prognosis because they respond better to standard treatment methods.
  • Patient health: The most effective life-extending treatment options are also hard on a patient’s body, requiring invasive surgery and intense chemotherapy and radiation. If a patient is too old or in poor health, doctors may rule out some effective treatments as being too dangerous.
  • Stage: The earlier a patient is diagnosed, the less the cancer has grown and spread in most cases. Smaller, more localized tumors are easier for doctors to surgically remove, and chemotherapy and radiation are more effective for them.

While patients can do little or nothing to influence many of the factors affecting the outcome of their mesothelioma, they can take some steps to help get the best prognosis possible.

Improving Mesothelioma Prognosis

Many of the most important factors affecting a patient’s prognosis, such as cancer cell type and tumor location, are beyond a patient’s control. However, they may be able to influence their prognosis in other ways.

Patients may be able to improve their mesothelioma prognosis by:

  • Seeking early treatment: In most cases, the best treatment options can only be performed for early-stage mesothelioma patients. Patients may be able to add months or even years to their lives by pursuing curative treatments as soon as they are eligible for them.
  • Not smoking: Smoking may worsen mesothelioma symptoms and affect overall patient health, increasing the risk of complications during life-extending treatments and lowering life expectancy.
  • Managing stress: Stress can negatively affect a patient’s health in several ways, making recovery from treatments slower and decreasing a patient’s overall quality of life.
  • Eating well: Patients who do not get enough nutrients may be too weak to undergo some curative treatments. A poor diet may also slow their recovery and decrease overall health.
  • Exercising: Even low-intensity exercise may benefit a patient’s health. Exercise may decrease stress, improve blood flow, and help prevent additional health issues like bedsores and depression.

Patients should follow best practices recommended by their doctors to achieve the best outcome for their mesothelioma.

Mesothelioma Treatment

Malignant mesothelioma is most treatable during the early stages (stages 1 and 2) when patients often have multiple curative options.

Advanced stage patients (stages 3 and 4) have fewer mesothelioma treatment options. During these stages, doctors mainly focus on improving a patient’s quality of life through palliative care.

Mesothelioma specialists create personalized treatment plans for each patient. To come up with the best treatment option(s) for a patient, doctors consider everything from a patient’s health to their cancer cell type to their personal wishes.

Standard mesothelioma treatment falls into 3 main categories:

  • Surgery
  • Chemotherapy
  • Radiation

Depending on the individual patient, doctors will recommend different treatment options and combinations.

Mesothelioma Surgery

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 often the most effective way to increase the lifespan of mesothelioma patients, but it is usually recommended for early-stage patients only.

Mesothelioma specialists have developed one or two types of standard surgeries for the different types of mesothelioma.

Most Common Mesothelioma Surgeries

Mesothelioma Type Surgery

Description

Pleural Extrapleural pneumonectomy (EPP) Removal of the diseased lung and pleura
Pleural Pleurectomy with decortication (P/D) Removal of the diseased pleura and any visible tumors
Peritoneal Cytoreduction with hyperthermic intraperitoneal chemotherapy (HIPEC) Removal of all visible cancer in the abdomen followed by the direct application of chemotherapy drugs into the abdomen
Pericardial Pericardiectomy The removal of tumors by removing part or all of the lining of the heart

Doctors often use chemotherapy and radiation along with surgery to achieve the best curative results.

Chemotherapy

During chemotherapy for mesothelioma, doctors introduce cancer-fighting drugs into a patient’s system. For mesothelioma, chemotherapy alone is generally considered only if surgery is not a treatment option. However, chemotherapy is typically combined with surgery to remove as much of the cancer as possible.

Chemotherapy for mesothelioma may be used to:

  • Kill remaining cancer cells after surgery
  • Reduce tumor size
  • Slow the spread of mesothelioma
  • Treat patients who cannot undergo surgery

Standard chemotherapy is administered in cycles over the course of several weeks or months. Chemotherapy may also be directly applied to the abdominal cavity during HIPEC for peritoneal mesothelioma.

Chemotherapy is known to have serious side effects such as vomiting, hair loss, and kidney damage, but milder variations of some approved drug combinations exist. Researchers are searching for ways to improve the effectiveness of chemotherapy while reducing its side effects.

Radiation Therapy

During mesothelioma radiation therapy, doctors use focused high-energy radiation beams aimed directly at the tumor site to shrink the tumors. These beams affect mesothelioma cells by interfering with their DNA, preventing them from multiplying and spreading.

Radiation therapy has few side effects compared to chemotherapy, and it is often used as palliative treatment for late-stage mesothelioma patients.

It is also commonly used alongside chemotherapy and surgery to help extend the life of patients as much as possible.

Multimodality Treatment

Doctors usually prescribe more than one type of mesothelioma treatment, especially for early-stage mesothelioma patients. Using this multimodal approach, doctors can destroy as much of the cancer as possible.

Specialists may recommend an initial radiation treatment to shrink tumors before surgically removing them. Doctors may also surgically remove the tumor first and then use radiation or chemotherapy to destroy remaining cancer cells.

Many researchers and organizations, such as the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO), have found that a multimodal approach is more effective in treating mesothelioma than any one treatment alone.

The ASCO’s clinical practice guideline for pleural mesothelioma reported that for pleural mesothelioma patients able to undergo their entire multimodal treatment plan, median overall survival was 21-59 months. This is far longer than the 12-month survival time of late-stage patients who could not undergo surgery.

Palliative Treatment

Stage 3 and 4 mesothelioma patients are often unable to get curative treatments. However, doctors can still prescribe palliative treatments to help reduce their pain and discomfort.

Palliative treatment options include:

  • Chemotherapy: Chemotherapy can shrink tumors, relieving symptoms of late-stage mesothelioma. While chemotherapy may cause serious side effects, new medical interventions may help reduce them.
  • Radiation: Radiation may also help reduce tumor size, easing symptoms. In addition, radiation often has fewer side effects than chemotherapy.
  • Low-risk surgeries: Minor surgeries such as thoracentesis and catheter insertion may be performed to drain extra fluid in the organs or make the process easier, reducing symptoms.
  • Alternative therapies: Non-medical techniques such as massage, meditation, and acupuncture may help some patients manage pain and stress.

As it grows and spreads, malignant mesothelioma can gravely decrease a patient’s quality of life, making palliative care an essential part of treatment.

Clinical Trials

Clinical trials are experiments or observations conducted to improve current treatment methods for a disease.

While they are not guaranteed to be effective, mesothelioma clinical trials offer hope to patients without standard treatment options and contribute vital information to future mesothelioma treatment efforts.

Other Mesothelioma Treatment Options

Several promising new cancer treatments are currently being developed. Mesothelioma patients may be able to access these cutting edge treatments through clinical trials.

Some promising mesothelioma treatment options include:

  • Anti-angiogenesis: Anti-angiogenesis blocks blood vessel growth in cancerous tumors, which need extra blood in order to grow. This treatment may stop cancer in its tracks by preventing it from spreading beyond a few millimeters.
  • Chemotherapy advancements: In the future, doctors may regularly administer chemotherapy drugs capable of targeting specific molecules that help cancer cells grow and spread.
  • Gene therapy: Gene therapy may be used in several ways to fight cancer. One potential method involves injecting a patient’s cancer cells with new genes that slow or stop growth.
  • Immunotherapy: Immunotherapy fights cancer by training a patient’s immune system to more effectively find and destroy cancer cells.
  • Photodynamic therapy: Photodynamic therapy uses special drugs to make cancer cells vulnerable to high-intensity light. Once vulnerable, these cells can be destroyed with lasers or other light energy sources.

Medical professionals hope that these new treatments prove more effective at fighting cancer than current methods, are less harmful to patients, and, one day, lead to a cure.

Accessing Mesothelioma Treatment

Mesothelioma is a rare disease. Some types, such as pericardial and testicular mesothelioma, are so uncommon that it may be hard to find any doctor with experience treating them.

However, finding a specialist is an essential part of mesothelioma treatment. Diagnosis, prognosis, and treatments for mesothelioma are all complex and should be performed by experienced doctors.

Thankfully, mesothelioma patients have options for accessing top treatment.

Mesothelioma Doctors

Oncologists, pathologists, surgeons, and other medical doctors who specialize in mesothelioma research and treatment are known as mesothelioma doctors or specialists.

Mesothelioma specialists may sub-specialize by type or stage, so when possible, patients should seek doctors with experience handling their type of mesothelioma.

Top pleural mesothelioma specialists include:

  • Dr. Abraham Lebenthal: Dr. Abraham “Avi” Lebenthal is a pleural mesothelioma specialist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and director of Minimally Invasive Thoracic Surgery at the VA West Roxbury Medical Center in Boston, MA.
  • Dr. Jacques-Pierre Fontaine: Dr. Jacques Fontaine is a thoracic surgeon who specializes in mesothelioma and lung cancer. He practices at Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa, FL.
  • Dr. Robert B. Cameron: Dr. Robert Cameron is one of the leading pleural mesothelioma surgeons in the country and the inventor of pleurectomy with decortication, a surgery used to treat pleural mesothelioma. He practices at Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center in Los Angeles, CA.
  • Dr. Taylor Ripley: Dr. Taylor Ripley is a nationally recognized thoracic oncologist specializing in mesothelioma. He is the director of the Mesothelioma Treatment Center where he practices at Baylor St. Luke’s Medical Center in Houston, TX.

Visit the UCLA Health website to learn more about Dr. Robert Cameron.

The Mesothelioma Justice Network has no affiliation with and is not endorsed or sponsored by Dr. Robert B. Cameron. The contact information above is listed for informational purposes only. You have the right to contact Dr. Cameron directly.

Top peritoneal mesothelioma specialists include:

  • Dr. Paul Sugarbaker: Dr. Sugerbaker is a gastrointestinal surgical oncologist known for developing the cytoreductive surgery with HIPEC procedure. He practices at the Washington Cancer Institute in Washington D.C.
  • Dr. James Pingpank: Dr. Pingpank is a gastrointestinal surgical oncologist specializing in the treatment of peritoneal mesothelioma. He practices at UPMC Hillman Cancer Center in Pittsburgh, PA.
  • Dr. Hedy Lee Kindler: Dr. Kindler is a top medical oncologist in the field of malignant mesothelioma. He practices at the University of Chicago Cancer Center in Chicago, IL.

Few pericardial and testicular mesothelioma cancer specialists exist, but other mesothelioma specialists may have experience with these types.

Ideally, patients should seek a mesothelioma specialist working at a National Cancer Institute (NCI) designated cancer center. A list of NCI-designated cancer centers may be found on the institute’s official website at cancer.gov.

Find a Mesothelioma Cancer Center

Mesothelioma cancer centers employ experienced mesothelioma doctors who specialize in diagnosing, treating, and researching mesothelioma.

Like specialists, themselves, these centers may sub-specialize by mesothelioma type or stage.

Top pleural mesothelioma cancer centers include:

  • Baylor Lung Institute
  • Boston VA Medical Center, West Roxbury Campus
  • Brigham & Women’s Hospital
  • H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center

Top peritoneal mesothelioma cancer centers include:

  • Washington (D.C.) Cancer Institute at Washington Hospital Center
  • University of Chicago Comprehensive Cancer Center
  • UPMC Hillman Cancer Center

Pericardial mesothelioma cancer centers include:

  • Brigham & Women’s Hospital
  • H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center
  • Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center
  • UT Southwestern Medical Center

To increase their chances of receiving the best possible treatment, patients should look to these and other NCI-designated mesothelioma cancer centers.

Cost of Mesothelioma Treatment

Unfortunately, treatment for mesothelioma is very expensive, with a total estimated cost of roughly $500,000.

In addition to the cost of tests, surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, and other medical expenses, patients may have other related expenses like caregiving and travel costs.

The cost of mesothelioma treatment may vary according to:

  • Caregiving needs
  • Healthcare providers
  • Individual treatment plan
  • Insurance coverage
  • Lodging needs
  • Lost income
  • Travel requirements
  • Veteran status

Treatment can lead to years of medical bills and, in some cases, financial bankruptcy. This adds unneeded stress when patients should be able to focus on healing and spending time with loved ones.

Did You Know?

The total estimated cost for mesothelioma treatment may reach over $500,000.

However, those suffering from mesothelioma have options to help them cover their medical costs. Even patients with good insurance may struggle to pay for their treatment. The American Cancer Society (ACS) lists the average cost of lung cancer treatment (comparable to mesothelioma costs) as $5,000-$10,000 per year for insurance holders.

Financial Support for Mesothelioma Victims

Asbestos exposure is the only confirmed cause of mesothelioma. For years, blue-collar workers, members of the U.S. military, and their loved ones were exposed to toxic asbestos fibers.

Eventually, the U.S. government and the public learned the truth that asbestos-containing product manufacturers had kept hidden for decades. Today, the victims of these companies’ negligence have several options for help with mesothelioma treatment costs.

Financial support options for mesothelioma victims include:

Individuals struggling with medical costs should research all of their financial options.

Questions to Ask A Doctor About Mesothelioma

Getting a mesothelioma diagnosis can be devastating and overwhelming. However, to get the best possible outcome, patients should never be afraid to ask their doctor questions concerning their diagnosis.

Diagnosis and Prognosis Questions

Patients should know exactly what type of mesothelioma they have, what the means for their disease outlook, and what they should do next.

Questions patients may wish to ask about their diagnosis and prognosis include:

  • What type of mesothelioma do I have?
  • How advanced is my cancer, and what does that mean for me?
  • How long can I expect to live if I don’t seek treatment? If I do?
  • Do I need to take any other tests or do anything else before starting treatment?
  • Will I need to see any other doctors?
  • What is the next step?

After a diagnosis, a doctor will describe the likely outcome of a patient’s mesothelioma and begin making a treatment plan. Patients need to remain engaged during this process to make sure they receive care that meets their personal needs.

Treatment Questions

Patients should understand exactly what their options for treatment are, the likely outcome of each treatment, and the risks and side effects involved. While they should listen to a specialist’s advice, the final choice of treatment is their own.

Questions patients may wish to ask about treatment include:

  • Will I need additional tests before deciding on treatment?
  • What treatment options are available to me?
  • How are these treatment options expected to help me?
  • What treatment do you recommend and why?
  • What are the risks and side effects of my treatment options?
  • What can I expect before, during, and after treatment?
  • Are there any alternative treatment options available?
  • How will treatment affect my everyday routine?

Patients should be aware that their doctor and other medical professionals are also available to help them through the day-to-day realities and emotional struggles of living with mesothelioma.

Questions About Living with Mesothelioma

Patients may have access not just to doctors and nurses, but social workers, all of whom can help answer difficult life questions.

Questions patients may wish to ask about living with mesothelioma include:

  • How do I tell my family about my diagnosis?
  • Are there any good cancer support resources I can use?
  • Can you suggest a mental health professional who has experience with my situation?
  • How much will my treatment cost?
  • What other expenses should I be aware of?
  • What are my financial options? Are there any resources for financial support?
  • What steps can I take to remain as healthy as possible?

Being diagnosed with malignant mesothelioma can be devastating to both the patient and their family. However, treatments for this rare disease are improving every day, and some mesothelioma survivors continue to beat the odds.

Patients should focus on seeking the best treatment options, maintaining the highest quality of life possible, and enjoying the time they have.

Mesothelioma Support Team
Reviewed by:Mark Levin, MD

Certified Oncologist and Hematologist

  • Fact-Checked
  • Editor

Mark Levin, MD has nearly 30 years of experience in academic and community hematology and oncology. In addition to serving as Chief or Director at four different teaching institutions throughout his life, he is also still a practicing clinician, has taught and designed formal education programs, and has authored numerous publications in various fields related to hematology and oncology.

Dr. Mark Levin is an independently paid medical reviewer.

Stephanie KiddWritten by:

Editor-in-Chief

Stephanie Kidd works tirelessly as a dedicated advocate for the vulnerable and underrepresented. Stephanie worked as a copywriter for an agency whose focus was communicating safety procedures on construction work sites. With her extensive background in victim advocacy and a dedication to seeing justice done, Stephanie works hard to ensure that all online content is reliable, truthful and helpful.

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