Treating Mesothelioma: A Guide to Treating, and Living Well

Mesothelioma, a rare cancer, harms the mesothelium, a thin tissue layer covering most internal organs.

Asbestos exposure, a mineral once widely used in construction and industries, primarily causes it.

An image illustration of Mesothelioma Treatment
[Photo: Landry and Swarr]

Treating Mesothelioma

Mesothelioma treatment options depend on various factors, such as the cancer stage, its location, and the patient’s overall health.

Mesothelial Cells and Their Role

Mesothelial cells create the mesothelium, a safeguarding membrane that lines internal organs such as the lungs, abdomen, and heart.

When asbestos fibers are inhaled or ingested, they can embed themselves in the mesothelium, causing inflammation and, over time, resulting in the development of mesothelioma.

Types of Mesothelioma

Mesothelioma has four primary types based on the affected location:

  1. Pleural Mesothelioma

    • Description: The most common form impacts the lining of the lungs.
    • Symptoms: shortness of breath, chest pain, and fluid buildup in the chest cavity.
  2. Peritoneal Mesothelioma

    • Description: Affects the lining of the abdomen.
    • Symptoms: abdominal pain, bloating, and weight loss.
  3. Pericardial Mesothelioma

    • Description: A rare type that affects the lining of the heart.
    • Symptoms: chest pain, palpitations, and heart failure.
  4. Testicular Mesothelioma

    • Description: Affects the lining of the testicles.
    • Symptoms: testicular pain and swelling.

Diagnosis and Staging

Early detection of mesothelioma is vital for improved treatment results. Although initial symptoms may be unclear and linked to other conditions, diagnostic processes involve:

  1. Medical history

    • Procedure: Comprehensive review of potential asbestos exposure and medical background.
  2. Physical examination

    • Procedure: Thorough examination, concentrating on the affected area.
  3. Imaging tests

    • Tests: chest X-ray, CT scan, MRI, and PET scan.
    • Purpose: visualization of the tumor and determination of its extent.
  4. Biopsy:

    • Procedure: extraction of a small tissue sample for microscopic examination.
    • Purpose: confirmation of the presence of cancer cells.

An image illustration of  Treating Mesothelioma
Early detection of mesothelioma is vital for improved treatment results [Photo: Brayton Purcell]

Staging Mesothelioma After Diagnosis

After the diagnosis, mesothelioma undergoes staging based on the extent and spread of the cancer.

  1. Stage I:
    • Description: Cancer is localized in the lining without spreading.
  2. Stage II:
    • Description: Cancer has spread to nearby tissues or lymph nodes.
  3. Stage III:
    • Description: Cancer has extended to more distant lymph nodes or other structures.
  4. Stage IV:
    • Description: Cancer has widely spread throughout the body.

Factors influencing treatment

  1. Cancer stage
  2. Cancer location
  3. Patient’s health

Main treatment options

  1. Surgery

  • Pleurectomy/decortication: removes the pleura and tumor, making it feasible for early-stage mesothelioma.
  • Extrapleural pneumonectomy: more aggressive; removes the lung, pleura, and diaphragm in advanced cases.
  • Peritonectomy/omentectomy: removes the peritoneum and tumor, applicable to early-stage peritoneal mesothelioma.
  1. Treating Mesothelioma: Radiation therapy

    • It uses high-energy rays to eliminate cancer cells and can be used standalone or combined with other treatments.
  2. Chemotherapy

    • Kills cancer cells using drugs administered intravenously or orally.
  3. Immunotherapy

    • It assists the immune system in fighting cancer, a promising option in mesothelioma clinical trials.
  4. Palliative Care

    Palliative care actively manages symptoms, enhances quality of life, and offers emotional support.

    6.Clinical Trials

    Patients can explore participating in clinical trials to access experimental treatments and potentially contribute to medical advancements.

[Photo: Bailey Glasser LLP]

Choosing the Right Treatment:

Selecting the best treatment involves considering several factors:

  1. Mesothelioma type and stage
  2. Patient’s overall health and age
  3. Treatment goals and preferences

Effective collaboration among doctors, nurses, and other healthcare professionals is essential for creating a personalized and efficient treatment plan.

Treating Mesothelioma: Emerging Therapies

Researchers are actively investigating several promising new therapies:

  1. Gene therapy:
    • Action: Targets and corrects genetic mutations contributing to cancer development.
  2. Targeted therapy:
    • Action: drugs designed to block specific molecular pathways involved in cancer growth.
  3. Photodynamic therapy:
    • Action: Uses light to activate a drug that kills cancer cells.
  4. Viral therapy:
    • Action: Utilizes viruses to deliver cancer-killing agents directly to tumor cells.

While these therapies are still in development, they provide hope for future advancements in mesothelioma treatment.

Managing Mesothelioma and Living Well

Living with mesothelioma involves a comprehensive approach.

Managing Symptoms

  • Utilizing pain management medication
  • Implementing pleural drainage and thoracentesis
  • Receiving nutritional support
  • Engaging in physical therapy

Psychological Support

  • Participating in individual therapy
  • Joining support groups
  • Seeking emotional counseling

Financial Assistance

  • Exploring patient assistance programs
  • Investigating disability benefits
  • Accessing legal resources

Maintaining a Healthy Lifestyle

  • Following a balanced diet
  • Incorporating regular exercise
  • Ensuring adequate sleep
  • Adopting stress management techniques


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