Mesothelioma Chemotherapy

Most mesothelioma patients undergo chemotherapy either as a standalone treatment or as part of a multimodal approach. Certain chemotherapy drug combinations have shown promising survival results in patients of all stages of mesothelioma. Medical oncologists continue to research the best chemotherapy approaches for treating mesothelioma.

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Chemotherapy Treatment for Mesothelioma

Chemotherapy is a non-invasive treatment that can help slow the progress of mesothelioma by destroying cancer cells. During chemotherapy, patients receive potent drugs that work against cancer by killing abnormal cells. These drugs may be administered intravenously, in pill form or directly into the abdominal or chest cavities.

There are several different kinds of chemotherapy drugs for mesothelioma, including cisplatin, pemetrexed and gemcitabine. While some people don’t respond well to these drugs, many mesothelioma patients have been able to beat the odds and live longer with the help of chemotherapy treatment.

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Researching Chemotherapy Drug Combinations

New chemotherapy drugs and drug combinations are currently being tested in clinical trials to determine the most effective options to improve survival.

How Can Chemotherapy Help Me?

Chemotherapy may be offered to patients as a treatment option at any of the 4 stages of mesothelioma, though specific treatment goals vary depending on the patient’s condition. For some patients, the goal is to shrink tumors. For others, chemotherapy is used to reduce painful symptoms.

Doctors use chemotherapy for mesothelioma for the following treatment objectives:

  • Shrink tumors and eliminate mesothelioma cells before surgery to help improve surgical success
  • Kill remaining cancer cells left over after surgery
  • Prevent recurrence (when the mesothelioma comes back) by administering chemotherapy directly into the body
  • Alleviate painful symptoms by destroying tumors and preventing cancer cells from spreading.

Mesothelioma Chemotherapy Drugs

Chemotherapy drugs are highly concentrated, anti-cancer medications. When these drugs are injected into the bloodstream, they circulate through the body and destroy mesothelioma cells in their path. This slows the rate of cancer growth.

Several chemotherapy drugs can treat mesothelioma. Doctors prescribe certain drugs—or combinations of drugs—based on the desired treatment outcomes. Mesothelioma researchers have found that combining two drugs is more effective than using a single drug.

Cisplatin and Pemetrexed

The combination of cisplatin and pemetrexed (brand name, Alimta®) has been the standard therapy for mesothelioma patients for over 10 years, and is currently the only FDA-approved drug combination for mesothelioma. These are typically the first drugs that mesothelioma patients receive. When patients have an adverse reaction to cisplatin, it’s often replaced with carboplatin—another platinum-based chemotherapy drug.

Cisplatin and pemetrexed can significantly improve mesothelioma survival rates. Mesothelioma patients typically continue receiving this combination or drugs until they stop responding to them or develop too many side effects.


Gemcitabine is a chemotherapy drug initially developed for breast and lung cancers. However, it’s been found effective for improving life expectancy in late-stage mesothelioma patients. When the first-line chemotherapy solution of cisplatin and pemetrexed stops working, gemcitabine can be prescribed as a second-line treatment.

There are several other chemotherapy drugs that can be prescribed to mesothelioma patients. Learn more about Mesothelioma Chemotherapy Medications.

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How Can I Receive Chemotherapy?

If your doctor has recommended chemotherapy for your mesothelioma, consult a specialist before beginning treatment. Mesothelioma specialists are medical oncologists who have dedicated their careers to researching the best possible chemotherapy drug combinations for each type of mesothelioma.

There are a few top medical oncologists in the country who can administer your mesothelioma treatment, including:

Mesothelioma Chemotherapy Regimens

A chemotherapy regimen involves a series of treatment cycles that take place over a set period of time. Patients may receive a single drug or a combination of drugs during each treatment.

Mesothelioma specialists develop personalized chemotherapy treatment plans for each patient based on their individual medical needs and goals. Your treatment regimen will outline the particular chemotherapy drugs, dosages and methods of administration to be used during your treatment.

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Personalized Chemotherapy Maximizes Treatment Outcomes

Mesothelioma doctors tailor chemotherapy plans to each patient. Personalized plans include the most effective chemotherapy drug combinations and dosages for the patient.

Chemotherapy and Other Treatments

Chemotherapy is most effective when used in combination with surgery or radiation therapy. Chemotherapy may be used before surgery (neoadjuvant therapy) to prevent cancer from spreading during the operation. Chemotherapy may also be used after surgery (adjuvant therapy) to prevent cancer from growing back.

Your specialist may also recommend the use of radiation alongside chemotherapy. Radiation therapy can be useful for controlling cancer symptoms when surgery is not a realistic option.

How Long Can I Have Mesothelioma Chemotherapy?

Chemotherapy is often given over the course of several weeks in cycles. Doctors typically administer chemotherapy in cycles of 3 to 4 weeks. Each treatment is followed by a rest period to give healthy body cells time to recover from damage. Single chemotherapy sessions may last anywhere from a few minutes to hours, depending on the specific treatment regimen chosen by your doctor.

Most patients undergo 4 to 6 cycles of chemotherapy, depending on the stage of mesothelioma and how it responds to treatment. Treatment cycles may continue as long as the chemotherapy is still effective.

Side Effects of Chemotherapy

Chemotherapy is well-known for its noticeable and difficult side effects. Chemotherapy drugs are effective against cancer because they attack fast-growing cells. However, they also target healthy cells that grow quickly, like hair follicles and cells in the digestive tract, mouth and reproductive system.

Some of the most common chemotherapy side effects include:

  • Hair loss
  • Fatigue
  • Nausea and appetite changes
  • Mouth sores
  • Lowered immune system functioning
  • Weight changes
  • Constipation and diarrhea
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Doctors Can Help You Manage Side Effects

Chemotherapy drugs affect patients differently. Some patients experience severe side effects and need to stop or change drugs. If this happens to you, your health care team will do everything they can to keep you comfortable.

A common practice during chemotherapy is for doctors to prescribe folic acid and B12 supplements. Supplementing with these two vitamins can help curb the common side effects of chemotherapy. However, some vitamins can make chemotherapy less effective, so be sure to talk to your doctor about how to best handle your side effects.

Mesothelioma Prognosis After Chemotherapy

The best chemotherapy results are seen when combined with surgery, and some patients have experienced long periods of remission following this treatment. A multimodal treatment approach that involves chemotherapy, surgery and radiation therapy can increase survival to over 5 years in some patients.

For patients with late-stage mesothelioma that cannot be removed through surgery, chemotherapy may help to slow cancer growth and ease symptoms. Even without surgery, many patients have been able to live beyond their original life expectancies with the help of chemotherapy.

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Learn More About Chemotherapy for Mesothelioma

For more information about receiving chemotherapy or getting in touch with a specialist for a consultation, contact the Mesothelioma Justice Network today. Our Justice Support Team can answer any questions you have about chemotherapy for mesothelioma and how it works with your treatment plan.

Author:Stephanie Kidd

Editor-in-Chief of the Mesothelioma Justice Network

Stephanie Kidd

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.

Last modified: July 1, 2019

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    current management and a look to the future. Annals of Cardiothoracic Surgery. 1(4),
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