Palliative care – the management of pain caused by symptoms – is a critical part of treatment for many mesothelioma patients. As the malignant mesothelioma grows and spreads, patients may experience worsening symptoms and pain. These side effects may also be a result of previous treatment or muscle atrophy due to inactivity.
When patients are diagnosed with more advanced mesothelioma (Stage 3 or Stage 4), there will likely be few, if any, curative treatment options available to them. Instead, doctors will often recommend a palliative treatment plan focusing on mesothelioma symptom management. Rather than attempting to cure the cancer, palliative care will emphasize improving quality of life.
Palliative Care Benefits
Mesothelioma patients who receive palliative treatment will likely experience several big benefits. In fact, studies have shown that starting palliative care early, alongside standard cancer therapy, can improve outcomes and even lead to improved survival rates.
|Benefits of Palliative Care for Mesothelioma|
|Specialized Treatment of Symptoms||Teams of palliative care specialists can help mesothelioma patients by working specifically to treat the symptoms and effects of their cancer, while oncologists and primary care physicians can focus on treating the disease itself.|
|Holistic Care||Palliative care addresses not only physical symptoms and side effects, but also the mental, emotional, and spiritual effects of mesothelioma, like anxiety or depression. Evidence shows that treating a person’s mind and soul can be just as important to survival as treating their body.|
|Catching Complications Early||Palliative treatment is focused on managing symptoms and side effects, which left untreated could lead to major complications down the road. By addressing these issues sooner rather than later, palliative specialists can improve quality of life and even potentially improve life expectancy.|
|Improved Quality of Life||The overall goal of palliative care is to improve quality of life for mesothelioma patients. Individuals who undergo such treatment will feel less pain and discomfort than those who undergo primary care treatments only.|
It's important to remember that even though early stage mesothelioma patients may have curative treatment options available, palliative care can be an important aspect of overall mesothelioma treatment in managing pain and symptoms. Many confuse palliative care with hospice care, which is applied specifically for terminal diseases and considered end-of-life care. While both types of healthcare are generally meant to provide comfort and relieve symptoms, the manner of care is approached with a different intent and techniques.
Palliative Care Techniques
Palliative care can take many forms. Conventional mesothelioma treatments can provide some palliation for symptoms, even if they are not going to cure the disease. Deciding on the types of palliative treatments is largely dependent on the cancer patient's symptoms and overall health.
- Techniques focus on reducing pressure from tumors and excess fluid buildup. Common procedures include pleurodesis and thoracentesis.
- Radiation Therapy
- Radiation has been known to stop the growth of tumors and even shrink them, which can help with pain management by relieving pressure and reducing discomfort.
Patients with mesothelioma deciding on these treatments, however, should remember that even when applied in a palliative manner, they may still face harsh side effects of treatment. Patients with an overall poor well-being, for example, may not be able to tolerate the toxicity of chemotherapy, which may cause nausea and vomiting, or more serious side effects like low blood cell counts. Mesothelioma doctors will be able to advise what types of treatments will be safe, tolerable, and effective in symptom management for an individual.
While some palliative treatments, like radiation, are often given at a cancer center, your doctor may also suggest some at-home palliative care techniques or alternative care to manage pain and other symptoms, such as difficulty breathing (dyspnea). These methods may include:
- Massage therapy
- Respiratory therapy
- Nutrition and diet planning
- Yoga and meditation
Pain Medication and Palliative Care
Pain management is an important aspect of palliative treatment. When undergoing palliative care, mesothelioma patients may receive prescription medication to help them manage their pain. While pain medications can be very effective in helping reduce the amount of pain an individual is feeling, some painkillers can be dangerous if they are not taken in the right amounts or at the right times.
Therefore, it is important to always follow your doctor’s instructions when taking pain medications. If your pain increases, speak to your doctor about changing your dosage appropriately. Never take matters into your own hands by taking more pain medication than prescribed.
Author: Linda Molinari
Editor in Chief, Mesothelioma Cancer AllianceRead about Linda
Reviewer: Annette Charlevois
Patient Support CoordinatorRead about Annette