Treatment Options for Mesothelioma:
Radiation, Surgery, Trimodal Therapy
Continued from: Mesothelioma Treatment
Radiation therapy uses radiation energy to kill the mesothelioma cancer cells. Unfortunately, similar to chemotherapy, the radiation not only attacks the cancer cells, but also damages other cells in the body as well. Radiation therapy has not been effective in enhancing the survival rate of mesothelioma patients, but it may mitigate the symptoms.
Surgical treatments for mesothelioma are relied upon because the disease is highly resistant to chemotherapy and radiation therapy alone. Surgical treatment requires removal of part of the lungs or other cancerous organs where the tumors are located.
There are two types of surgical procedures. The first, which requires the removal of pleural tissue followed by reconstruction of the lungs, does little to control the tumor, because much of the pleural tissue remains following the procedure. In fact, the tumor is free to start growing in the pleura again immediately after surgery. This procedure is preferred for patients suffering from pulmonary reserve (loss of breathing capability) because less of the lung tissue is removed.
The second, more extensive, procedure removes almost all of the pleural tissue and tissue from surrounding organs and membranes. This procedure typically stops the local growth of the tumors, but requires the removal of large areas of lung and other tissue.
Overall, surgical treatment has met with limited success. With surgery alone, the recurrence rate is high and most patients die within a few months after surgery. A relatively new type of surgical procedure developed specifically for the treatment of malignant pleural mesothelioma is extrapleural pneumonectomy. This procedure is highly invasive and is only recommended for patients who have early-stage pleural mesothelioma. Still, the short life expectancy for pleural mesothelioma makes it worthwhile to some patients.
Trimodality therapy involves a combination of chemotherapy, radiation therapy and surgical treatment for mesothelioma. Using the Brigham staging system as a barometer, the survival rate after initiation of trimodality therapy is 22 months for Stage 1, 17 months for Stage 2 and 11 months for Stage 3. In some cases of trimodality therapy, different chemotherapy agents were found to be more useful.
For all treatment types, it is important that the patient begin physical activity as soon as possible after treatment. Also, due to loss of appetite, patients should be referred to a nutritionist.
[Page updated January 2006]