Mesothelioma is a complicated disease and is one that is very difficult to treat successfully. The main reason for these challenges is the fact that mesothelioma remains latent in the body for up to several decades and by the time it is discovered it has usually reached an advance stage and is no longer localized at the primary spot where the cancerous tumor first formed, usually the pleura - the lining of the lungs.
Through decades of study, researchers and doctors have found that the best treatment for mesothelioma involves more than one kind of cancer therapy. Therefore, most treatment protocols for mesothelioma patients are multi-modal, involving surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation or any combination of the three. This kind of treatment regimen has been shown in published data to be associated with the longest survival rates for mesothelioma patients, with a median survival time that varies from 16 to 22 months, depending on a variety of factors include staging, type of surgery, and cell type.
Though there are few patients who can be cured of mesothelioma cancer by undergoing surgery, a surgical procedure may still be offered in order to remove as much of the cancer as possible. Thoracic surgeons almost always recommend the use of chemotherapy after surgery such as the pleurectomy or pneumonectomy, including a chemotherapy "wash" or Intraoperative Hyperthermic Peritoneal Perfusion for those with peritoneal mesothelioma. Radiation can also be used as an "adjuvant" therapy after surgery. As a matter of fact, researchers at the Dana Farber Cancer Center in Boston have reported that among 120 patients with malignant pleural mesothelioma who underwent surgery with extrapleural pneumonectomy and adjuvant treatment with chemotherapy, and radiotherapy, 22 percent survived 5 years or longer, an astounding number for a disease that often kills its victims within a year of diagnosis.
Chemotherapy and radiation therapy may also be combined together in the treatment of mesothelioma where the patient is not a candidate for mesothelioma surgery, as is often the case in more advanced cases of the disease. Often this kind of multi-modal treatment is designed to shrink tumors or relieve other debilitating symptoms of the disease. This is known as palliative treatment and does not offer a potential cure for mesothelioma. It simply makes the patient more comfortable.
Author: Linda Molinari
Editor in Chief, Mesothelioma Cancer AllianceRead about Linda
Reviewer: Annette Charlevois
Patient Support CoordinatorRead about Annette
Pacific Heart, Blood, and Lung Institute
University of Florida Shands Cancer Center