Category: Disease Prevention

Mesothelioma: Available Treatment Options

Published:27 Mar, 2017     By: Salan Khalkho     6 min read

Each year 3,000 cases of mesothelioma are registered including pleural mesothelioma. Advancement in conventional treatment options including surgery, radiation therapy, and chemotherapy and emerging treatments like gene therapy and immunotherapy has helped increase survival rate for pleural mesothelioma patients.

no cure for pleural mesothelioma

Despite years of research, there is literally no cure for pleural mesothelioma. Over the years, advancement in technologies and have helped patients live longer, healthier and achieve over all better quality of life. Since pleural mesothelioma is relatively rare disease, it receives significantly less research funds compared to other forms of cancer.

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Each year 3,000 cases of mesothelioma are registered including pleural mesothelioma. On contrary there are 2.5 million lung cancer cases registered each year in India.

Advancement in conventional treatment options including surgery, radiation therapy, and chemotherapy and emerging treatments like gene therapy and immunotherapy has helped increase survival rate for pleural mesothelioma patients. There are no cures for mesothelioma but timely curative treatment is helpful in extending life expectancy and to provide better quality of life.

survival rate for pleural mesothelioma patients

Importance of early detection

It is very difficult to detect mesothelioma in its early stage since many of the early symptoms mirror less severe respiratory conditions which can lead to misdiagnosis and also because of the aggressive nature of the cancer. Though early detection is challenging, it is much helpful in improved prognosis.

detecting mesothelioma in its early stage increases survival rate

Early detection means patient has more treatment options which even include aggressive and experimental treatments. But most importantly treatment is more effective when mesothelioma is diagnosed in its early stage.

Earlier tissue biopsies and imaging tests were important to make accurate diagnosis of pleural mesothelioma, but recent advancements in blood-based biomarkers have shown promising results.

Earlier tissue biopsies and imaging tests


    Conventional treatment involves surgery, radiation therapy and chemotherapy. While exploring various treatment options available to patient, it is important to consider risk and benefits of each of the treatment before making decision.



    Only about 1 in every 5 patient suffering with mesothelioma undergoes surgery. There are mainly two types of surgeries: pleurectomy and decortications. Through surgery surgeon tries to remove as much tumor from around the lungs as possible. In a more radical approach like extrapleural pneumonectomy, the lung itself is removed.

    Though there is much talk around which surgery is effective, studies have shown long term survivors are those who have gone some form of surgery. It has also come out in the study that pneumonectomy followed by radiation prevents reoccurrence of tumor in chest in 80 to 85 percent patients.

    Surgeries involve long intensive operation with 55 percent complication rate and 3 percent death rate. Therefore this surgery is performed only with patients with good prognosis, especially when cancer has not spread outside the chest.

      Pleurectomy/decortication is reputed for high failure rate with chances of tumor recurring in the chest cavity in 50 to 80 percent of the cases. The rate greatly varies depending upon the improved radiotherapy techniques. But then there is no difference in the rate of survival among both the surgeries.


      It is also referred as systemic therapy. Chemotherapy involves oral or infusion-based medications to kill the cancer cells present throughout the body. Chemotherapy is used both before and after the surgery. It is also used in patients who do not undergo surgery.

      Though chemotherapy is non curative, it has shown survival benefits. It is also used in palliative setting to reduce the pain and improve the overall quality of life. The most common drug to treat mesothelioma is cisplatin combined with pemetrexed or raltitrexed. In many of the cases where patient cannot manage combination therapy, doctors may just proceed with single drug.


      Radition is an important part of mesothelioma treatment. The only problem with this treatment is that since the cancer lies near the heart and lung, it is quite challenging to provide this kind of high-dose and intensive therapy required to shrink the tumor.

      Newer options have evolved such as intensity-modulated radiotherapy which is more accurate in targeting cancer cells and avoid healthy tissues, thereby delivering better results when performed by experienced clinicians.

      Care for symptoms and side effects

      Treatment of cancer is prone to side effects. Apart from treatment to slow down, stop, eliminate the cancer, an important aspect is to relieve the patient from existing symptoms and side effects. It is called palliative or supportive care and involves supporting the patient along with his physical, emotional and social needs.

      Palliative is helpful to patients at any stage of illness. In majority of cases patients receive treatment for cancer and treatment to ease side effects both at the same time. It is observed that patients who receive both the treatment simultaneously experience less severe symptom, better quality of life and report more satisfaction with treatment.

      Palliative treatments include medication, relaxation techniques, nutritional changes and other therapies. Some palliative treatments are very similar to those meant to eliminate cancer like surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy.

      When Treatment Fails

      Recovery from cancer is not always possible and when recovery fails, the disease is called advanced or terminal cancer. Patients with advanced cancer, who are expected to live less than six months, may consider a type of palliative care called as hospice care.

      This treatment is designed to provide best possible quality of life to the people nearing their end of life. Family members in such case have to decide where the patient will be more comfortable at hospital or at home or in a hospice environment. Arrangement of nursing care and special equipment at home provide workable alternative for many families.

      Clinical Trials

      Clinical Trials are carried out to find out better treatments of mesothelioma cancer. Many drugs and treatments that have been tested in clinical trials are now commonly used. Clinical Trials also presents an opportunity to patients to take advantage of most up-to-date advancement in treatment and medication.

      So far traditional treatment options have given limited success and so far there is no cure developed for cancer. Clinical trial gives a chance to the patients to gain access to cutting-edge treatments like immunotherapy and gene therapy. Many oncologists firmly believe that these treatments have potential to prolong the life expectancy of mesothelioma patients.

      However not every pleural mesothelioma patients qualifies for clinical trials. Each clinical trial has specific eligibility requirements which depend on treatment history, physical health, age, gender and type of pleural mesothelioma.

      Since pleural mesothelioma is such a rare cancer, it is often difficult to recruit enough patients to complete trail for rare cancer. According to an estimate by The National Cancer Institute (NCI), only 5 percent of the patients participate in clinical trials.

      Important Note: Medical and health related information given in this article is not a substitute for professional medical advice. This article is intended for general informational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice. If you think you may have a medical emergency, call your doctor immediately. Always seek the advice of your doctor before starting or changing treatment.

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