Mesothelioma Treatments

Mesothelioma Treatments

Though a cure for mesothelioma does not currently exist, many patients elect to undergo treatment to combat the cancer. Mesothelioma generally develops after a long latency period, then advances quickly and tends to be resistant to curative treatment efforts. In most cases, however, a range of palliative treatments can be used to slow the spread of the disease and alleviate symptoms.

Standard Mesothelioma Treatments

The vast majority of mesothelioma cases are treated using a three-pronged approach: surgery, chemotherapy and radiation therapy. These treatments are generally used in tandem with one another to bring about the best possible results.

The first defense is usually surgery. The goal in mesothelioma surgery is to remove the tumor and all associated cancerous cells. Unfortunately, surgery is generally considered to be a viable option only in early stages of mesothelioma. Because a large number of mesothelioma cases are diagnosed at a late stage of development, many patients find that surgery is not an option because the cancer has already metastasized to a great extent.

In nearly all cases, surgery is followed by either chemotherapy or radiation therapy. Chemotherapy involves the patient intravenously taking a drug, often Alimta or Cisplatin. The goal of these drugs is to target and kill cancerous cells by interfering with cell division. In addition, there are a number of new chemotherapy medications that have been shown to work relatively well in mesothelioma cases. Unfortunately, however, side effects are generally quite severe and some patients may choose to skip chemotherapy on that basis alone.

Radiation therapy can also be used to target cancerous cells. During radiation therapy, harmful radiation is targeted directly at cancerous cells. Radiation therapy generally has fewer side effects than chemotherapy and your doctor can help determine which course of treatment is right for you based on the specifics of your condition.

Palliative Treatments

Treatments such as surgery, chemotherapy and radiation therapy can also be used for palliative purposes. Despite the fact that there is no known cure for mesothelioma, early-stage mesothelioma can be battled head-on in an effort to eradicate cancerous cells and extend the patient's life span for as long as possible.

In advanced cases, curative treatments may not be an option because the cancer has spread too deeply. In these cases, a patient may undergo palliative treatment, in which the patient receives treatments designed not to cure the cancer but instead to relieve the symptoms and improve quality of life. A palliative surgery, for example, might focus on removing a large tumor to relieve pressure on internal organs. Palliative uses of radiation might include shrinking a tumor for the same purpose.

Alternative Treatments

Some mesothelioma patients have chosen to seek out alternative treatments which are designed to ease pain and help patients regain control of their bodies. Although these treatments do not provide a cure, many have found them to increase comfort and relieve stress. Such alternative treatment options may include massage, acupuncture, TENS therapy, aromatherapy, medication, yoga and dietary supplements.

Newer Treatments

One relatively new cancer treatment that may have some applications in the world of mesothelioma is photodynamic therapy. Photodynamic therapy uses light energy to target and kill cancerous cells. During photodynamic therapy, the patient is given an intravenous solution that is designed to make cancer cells sensitive to a specific form of light. The patient is then exposed to this light and affected cells may be killed. Photodynamic therapy is most useful in localized cancers that have not metastasized.

Another developing treatment option is gene therapy, which uses genetic material to target cancerous cells. "Suicide gene therapy," for example, forces cancerous cells to die by producing toxic substances. When a patient undergoes gene therapy, the first step is to receive a non-infectious virus that has been engineered to produce a particular protein. Additional steps focus on finding a way to make those cancerous cells self-destruct or become more susceptible to chemotherapy. Other variations on this kind of treatment are currently in developmental stages.

A third emerging procedure in mesothelioma treatment is immunotherapy. During immunotherapy, a patient's immune system is trained to seek and destroy cancerous cells (an activity that the immune system does not normally do). In active immunotherapy, cancerous cells are removed from the patient and taken to a laboratory. The lab then uses these cancerous cells to create a vaccine that can be injected back into the patient (much like a common MMR or chicken pox vaccine). In passive immunotherapy, various substances are used to boost the patient's immune response to the cancer. Immunotherapy is still in the early stages of development, but the treatment holds much promise.

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