Mesothelioma is a rare and fatal form of cancer that is caused by asbestos exposure. Once believed safe, asbestos is now recognized as a toxic substance that can result in malignancies when it is ingested or inhaled. As its name implies, mesothelioma forms on the mesothelium, which is the tissue that lines the person’s internal organs. The most common sites for this rare cancer are the lungs and abdomen. The type of the disease from which one is suffering, as well as its level of severity will determine which mesothelioma treatment is recommended.
Because there is no known cure for mesothelioma and the mortality rate is essentially 100 percent, most treatments are considered palliative, the latter of which means they are focused on relieving the symptoms of the disease and preventing the patient’s suffering as much as possible, rather than curing the disease itself. The high mortality rate associated with mesothelioma is due in part to the fact that it is rarely diagnosed in its early stages when therapy would likely have good results. In certain cases, the disease does not present itself until 30 or more years after the initial exposure to asbestos occurred. Because the cancer is usually only discovered after it has begun to metastasize, it is imperative to begin treatment immediately upon diagnosis. The following are some of the most common treatments for all types of mesothelioma:
Chemotherapy is a cancer treatment that involves the use of specific combinations of drugs. Such medications are usually injected into a vein, although in certain cases they are given orally. The drugs are typically administered on a daily or weekly basis while the patient is spending time in a hospital. After discharge, certain types of chemotherapy may be given on an outpatient basis. The goal of this particular mesothelioma treatment is to put the cancer into remission, and thus prolong the patient’s life.
During radiotherapy, malignant tumors are destroyed through radiation. Radiation can be administered internally or externally, and the type of treatment the doctor recommends will depend on where the tumors are located. Radiation therapy can be used as the patient’s sole form of treatment or it can be given in conjunction with other therapies or procedures. Both chemotherapy and radiation have certain side effects, but due to advancements in medical technology, these effects are much less severe than they were even a decade ago.
Surgery is sometimes recommended in an attempt to remove the cancer from the patient’s body. However, according to the National Institutes of Health, surgical procedures are not regarded by the medical community as a cure, but rather a treatment that is aimed at prolonging remissions when they occur.
Additonal Mesothelioma Treatment Options
As previously mentioned, mesothelioma treatments are palliative rather than curative in nature and some additional palliative measures include procedures such as draining pleural or peritoneal fluid from one’s chest or abdomen. These treatments often make mesothelioma patients significantly more comfortable, as the weight of the aforementioned fluid is eliminated. The procedure can be performed in one of two ways, which are pleurodesis or pleuroperitoneal shunting. The latter is a catheter that is used to drain the buildup of fluid from the pleural or peritoneal cavities. Pleurodesis on the other hand is a preventative treatment that focuses on stopping the fluid build up before it reaches a significant level.
New Advancements in the Pharmaceutical World
The United States Food and Drug Administration has recently approved new medications for mesothelioma patients. These drugs are in a unique class, as they have the ability to bind to the surface of the cancer cells, which in turn triggers a response in the patient’s immune system. Ideally, the person’s immune system will then recognize the malignant cells as invaders and fight to eradicate them from his or her body.
Alternative and Complementary Treatment Options
Complementary and alternative mesothelioma treatment options may also be pursued by certain patients. These may include acupuncture, biofeedback, nutritional counseling and visualization. While these should never be used to replace conventional medical options, some physicians recommend holistic therapies in conjunction with traditional treatments in order to bring the most comfort possible to the patient. Because advancements in medical technology and pharmacology are being made every day, mesothelioma patients should not give up hope that a cure will be found for this devastating illness. Anyone who has been exposed to asbestos and suspects they may be having symptoms of this disease should speak to a qualified physician immediately about mesothelioma treatment options.