Mesothelioma Treatments

Mesothelioma Chemotherapy

Chemotherapy is one of the most common methods for treating a variety of cancers. The goal of chemotherapy is to use toxic chemicals to kill harmful cancer cells. In most circumstances, chemotherapy drugs are designed to locate and target cells that are dividing and growing rapidly, then interfere with those processes.

Chemotherapy is usually performed after surgery in an attempt to eradicate any remaining cancer cells. In some cases, however, it may be conducted prior to surgery to reduce the size of the tumor. Chemotherapy may also be performed on its own as a sole course of treatment.

Chemotherapy Side Effects

While chemotherapy is an excellent strategy to fight cancerous cells, other healthy cells can unfortunately be affected, bringing a string of unpleasant side effects. Because chemotherapy drugs are designed to target areas of the body where cells rapidly reproduce, other areas that share this trait are also affected. Other parts of the body where cells tend to divide rapidly, for example, include hair and the immune system (which is why people undergoing chemotherapy often lose their hair and have compromised immune systems). Chemotherapy may also cause nausea, loss of appetite, vomiting, and exhaustion.

Chemotherapy can also damage bone marrow, which is responsible for producing blood cells. As a result, patients who are undergoing chemotherapy may experience low blood cell counts. This can make patients bruise or bleed easily and be at a high risk for infection.

For many people, the side effects of chemotherapy are well worth an improved prognosis and an increased life expectancy. For others, however, the threat of side effects is too great. Some patients choose to focus on living their remaining time with loved ones rather than dealing with the side effects of chemotherapy.

Chemotherapy Options

There are a number of options available to treat mesothelioma with chemotherapy. Each is chemically different and is structured in a specific way. Your doctor will help you determine which one is right for you. Your age and the progression and type of your cancer are likely to play key roles in the decision-making process. In addition, you and your doctor should discuss your entire medical history, including medications you are currently taking to ensure that the right chemotherapy drugs are chosen.

With more than 100 chemotherapy medications on the market, only a few are considered to be useful against mesothelioma. This means the list of options is likely to be relatively short. Because mesothelioma is a very aggressive, complex disease, two or more chemotherapy drugs may be used at the same time. Common options include alimta, cisplatin, carboplatin, onconase, gemcitabine and nayelbine. Alimta is the only drug that is currently FDA-approved for mesothelioma, though many doctors have found success employing the others listed here.

The preferred drug combination for mesothelioma is generally pemetrexed/alimta in combination with cisplatin. When this combination is administered, folic acid and B12 must also be administered, as the pemetrexed interferes with the metabolism of these substances. Other common combinations include cisplatin with gemcitabine, cisplatin with carboplatin (which has the side effect of substantial nausea and vomiting), methotrexate and vincristine, cisplatin with vinlastine and mitomycin, cisplatin and doxorubicin, and a three-way combo of doxorubicin, cyclophosphamide and cisplatin. Some patients may experience difficulty handling two drugs at once. In these cases, a single drug can be used.

In any case, the drug may be administered through a pill or intravenously. The drugs may also be given intraperitoneally (meaning directly into the abdominal cavity) or intrapleurally (meaning directly into the chest cavity). When drugs are administered intraperitoneally or intrapleurally, there is a lower chance that other cells will be damaged. Doctors may also be able to use higher dosages of chemotherapy drugs when they are administered this way.

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