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Treatment of Asbestos Disease

Standard Mesothelioma Treatment Options

Surgery

Surgery is a common treatment for asbestos mesothelioma and can be used to diagnose, treat, or manage the cancer. The type of surgery a doctor will recommend will depend on the location and stage of the cancer. In some cases where the cancer has spread throughout the body, surgery may not be a viable asbestos mesothelioma treatment option.

The following are some surgical procedures that may be recommended to treat mesothelioma that has not spread to other areas of the body:

  • Pneumonectomy: removal of all or part of an affected lung (for patients with plural mesothelioma). Part of the diaphragm may also be removed. This is considered a more aggressive mesothelioma treatment option.
  • Pleurectomy/Decortication: removal of the lining of the lungs and surrounding areas (including the heart lining or diaphragm lining). The lung is not removed during this procedure. This surgical option may relieve symptoms but doesn't stop, slow down or cure the mesothelioma cancer.

Similar procedures are also available for peritoneal and pericardial mesothelioma.

Chemotherapy

Chemotherapy involves the use of drugs to halt, slow, and kill cancerous cells in the body. Chemotherapy can be done alone or in conjunction with other mesothelioma treatments. The type of chemotherapy that a doctor recommends will depend on a number of factors. Some of these drugs are given by injection and others are administered directly onto the area affected by the cancer. Some are given as single agents, while others are given in combination with other drugs.

Some people are frightened by the idea of chemotherapy, often because they are unsure what to expect. For this reason and others, it is important to ask your doctor exactly what drugs will be given, how they will be administered (including route of administration, frequency of dosage and strength of dosage), what possible side effects may occur, and any other information that may be pertinent to your specific chemotherapy treatment for mesothelioma. Cisplatin, vinorelbine, gemcitabine, doxorubicin and pemetrexed are some of the chemotherapy drugs used for the treatment of mesothelioma.

Radiation

Radiation, or radiotherapy, is a cancer treatment that uses high-energy rays to kill off cancerous cells and shrink the size of tumors. Radiation is a targeted therapy, which only affects a specific area of the body (whereas chemotherapy affects the entire body). This treatment can be used alone or in conjunction with other treatments for mesothelioma. It is often used as a palliative treatment and can be used to treat local chest wall recurrences.

Other Therapies Used to Treat Mesothelioma

Photodynamic Therapy is a cancer treatment that acts by using special drugs called photosensitizing agents and light to damage and destroy cancerous cells. These drugs only work when they have been “activated” by light, allowing a more targeted treatment of mesothelioma and other cancers.

Gene Therapy is an experimental cancer treatment that involves introducing some genetic material into a patient's cells to fight cancer. This type of treatment for asbestos mesothelioma is only available through clinical trials at this time.

Immunotherapy uses the body's own immune system strength and response to fight cancer. This involves strengthening the body's own immune response through various treatments. In general, two types of immunotherapy can be used: active immunotherapy, which stimulates the body's ability to fight disease; and passive immunotherapy, which use immune system components (such as antibodies) made in the lab.

Palliative Care for Asbestos Mesothelioma

Many treatment options for asbestos mesothelioma are considered palliative in nature. Palliative care, also called comfort care or supportive care, is mesothelioma treatment that is given to improve quality of life by reducing symptoms and treating complications, but is not intended to cure the disease. Palliative care focuses on cancer management and looks at the patient's physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual well-being. Palliative care can be used anytime after a diagnosis is made and is not the same as hospice care.

Examples of palliative care include:

  • Management of mesothelioma symptoms. For example, a doctor may remove fluid from the chest or abdomen. Other types of surgery and radiation may also be palliative in intent.
  • Pain management
  • Managing/treating side effects of any medications
  • Treatment of depression and anxiety
  • Professional support to address illness and end-of-life concerns

Alternative Treatment for Asbestos Mesothelioma

In addition to standard mesothelioma treatment options, many patients use complementary or alternative treatments including massage, biofeedback, acupuncture, aromatherapy, meditation, dietary supplements, yoga, and more. If you are going to alter your diet or take any alternative supplements, it is a good idea to discuss these with your doctor to make sure they don't interfere with any other treatments you might be receiving.

Asbestos Mesothelioma Clinical Trials

Clinical trials test out experimental new treatments that experts believe may hold promise for the treatment of asbestos mesothelioma and other cancers. Because mesothelioma is difficult to control and is not yet curable, researchers are constantly looking for new treatments, which they test in clinical trials. Such trials determine whether a promising new treatment is safe and effective enough to be made available to everyone. To learn whether or not you are eligible to join a clinical trial, you should speak with your doctor. The National Cancer Institute also has information about current and future trials designed to identify new treatments for mesothelioma.