More than 100 types of cancer can exist in the human body. Among the rare and aggressive types of cancer is mesothelioma.
It is caused by asbestos exposure and mainly develops in the tissue surrounding the lungs. Common symptoms include persistent cough, chest pain, difficulty swallowing, and shortness of breath.
Mesothelioma or any major illness diagnosis not just affects the person with the disease but also the family members and friends. The diagnosis opens an emotional floodgate, not to mention the financial and physical strain it can put on the patient and caregivers.
Dealing with a mesothelioma diagnosis can be even more challenging since there is no cure for the illness; however, not all hope is lost. Treatment options like surgery, chemotherapy, immunotherapy, and radiation can improve the patient’s quality of life and give them a chance at survival.
Compared to stage 4, stage 1 mesothelioma patients have a better prognosis and can utilize more treatment options. Depending on the stage, a mesothelioma specialist will recommend the following treatments.
Stage 1 or stage 2 mesothelioma means cancer has not spread to the surrounding tissues or other body parts, increasing the likelihood of successful treatment. Surgery involving the removal of most or all of the tumor is the first line of treatment with a high success rate.
Different surgery options include extrapleural pneumonectomy, pleurectomy or decortication, and pneumonectomy.
Extrapleural pneumonectomy is the most aggressive type of surgery that removes the entire lung, nearby lymph nodes, a part of the diaphragm, and the pericardium. Long-term benefits include pain relief and prolonged life.
Not every patient can endure extrapleural pneumonectomy due to its intensive nature. Patients who undergo the procedure may experience a decrease in their strength post-surgery.
The less aggressive alternative to treating mesothelioma is pleurectomy, which involves the removal of the lung’s pleural lining. Surgeons performing the procedure scrape the diseased surface rather than removing the whole organ.
Pneumonectomy is the removal of the lung and is only performed when cancer hasn’t spread beyond the organ. A patient’s overall health plays a massive role in every treatment. Besides that, potential risks, stage, and extent of organ function are also crucial factors to consider before surgery.
In most cases, chemotherapy is administered in combination with other treatments such as surgery and radiation therapy. However, unlike surgery, chemotherapy is available to patients at any stage of mesothelioma.
At the early stage, chemotherapy treatment is more effective in reducing the tumor size. In the later stages, chemotherapy aims to prevent the symptoms from worsening and helps the patient live longer.
Chemotherapy drugs are administered in two ways; systematic and intraoperative. Systematic chemotherapy is less invasive than heated chemotherapy and works through intravenous injections.
Intraoperative chemotherapy is delivered during surgery. The technique involves heating up the medication, rinsing the exposed cancer site with it, and draining the fluid. This method only targets cancer directly without affecting healthy organs.
It is a targeted cancer treatment that utilizes the patient’s immune system to fight off the disease. Similar to chemotherapy, immunotherapy prevents the tumor from spreading at an early stage and slows down the growth in later stages.
There are many types of immunotherapy treatments for mesothelioma, from cancer vaccines to monoclonal antibodies, immune checkpoint inhibitors, and CAR T-cell therapy.
Cancer vaccines are of two types; preventative and therapeutic. Preventative cancer vaccines decrease the likelihood of recurrent mesothelioma, whereas the therapeutic treat the active form of the disease.
Monoclonal antibody treatment targets the antigen inside the cancer cells. The treatment involves making several copies of the effective antibody and transfusing it to the patients.
Patients seeking immunotherapy treatment have an increased chance of remission, because the body’s immune system recognizes and destroys cancer cells, thus decreasing the likelihood of recurrence.
Radiation therapy is used to shrink tumors, relieve patients’ pain, and increase the survival rate. The treatment uses ionizing radiations such as high-energy X-rays that damage the DNA of the cancer cells, ultimately killing them.
The therapy only affects the body area where the radiations are administered. The common side effect patients experience from the particular treatment is skin irritation.
During surgery, microscopic cancer cells sometimes move to a new area; this particular phenomenon is known as seeding. Radiation therapy in such circumstances administered along the incision sites prevents seeding.
Radiation therapy applied internally is known as brachytherapy, while its external application is referred to as external beam radiation therapy. The latter is noninvasive, painless, and applied for treating malignant tumors.
Brachytherapy kills the cancer cells with a radioactive material implanted in the tumor during the surgery.
A mesothelioma diagnosis impacts patients and their family members in several ways. Finding out someone has cancer is nerve-racking, with the whole family experiencing a range of emotions from shock and anger to sadness and anxiety.
Many might consider a mesothelioma diagnosis the end of life, but that is not true. Along with emotional and financial support, several treatment options are available to alleviate symptoms and improve the prognosis.
Factors like patient’s health, disease progression, and ultimately the goal play a significant role in determining the type of treatment implemented.