Mesothelioma Treatments

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There are several types of treatment available for patients with mesothelioma, some recommended more frequently than others. The most commonly used treatments are surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy. In addition, some experimental treatments are becoming more widely used, or are showing some encouraging results in clinical trials. These treatments include photodynamic therapy, gene therapy, and immunotherapy, among others.

Most of these treatments are not used in isolation. In many cases, treatment may consist of a combination of therapies. For example, surgery to remove as much of the cancer as possible may be followed by radiotherapy or chemotherapy to remove residual cancer cells. This is one of the most common treatment options for mesothelioma among those who are candidates for surgery.

A number of alternative therapies can also be combined with traditional treatment options. Many patients choose to add alternative therapies such as massage, acupuncture, or TENS therapy to their conventional treatment approach in an effort to enhance or compliment the treatment process. A variety of alternative therapies, including aromatherapy, meditation, or yoga, are often added to a treatment regimen to provide pain relief and foster relaxation.

If you or a loved one have been diagnosed with mesothelioma it is likely you’re interested in the various treatment options available. Working with your doctor to create the best treatment plan is an important step. Knowing what the treatment plan will do to help treat the cancer often helps patients and their families understand the process and feel more comfortable.

Mesothelioma is regarded as a highly aggressive cancer, as this disease is exceptionally resistant to current treatment methods. Though a number of treatments are available to mesothelioma patients, such as surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation, these options are known to only offer palliative relief – not a cure.

A number of scientific studies and clinical trials have worked tirelessly to find a cure for mesothelioma to no avail. Those versed in the politics of cancer research posit that since mesothelioma is such a rare cancer, little financial funding has been allotted to support the search for a cure. Hence, the hope for a mesothelioma cure is undeniably reliant upon increased funding to support research efforts.

Thankfully, the general public is becoming increasingly aware of mesothelioma. As more people and specific interest groups recognize the critical need to support research for a mesothelioma cure, funding will undoubtedly increase and this cancer may start to receive financial support that contends with the nation’s most recognized forms of cancer. Once adequate funding for research becomes available, the hope for a cure will become a more tangible reality to mesothelioma sufferers across the globe.

Surgical treatments for mesothelioma include three main types – diagnostic surgery, curative surgery, and palliative surgery. Some types of surgery fall into more than one category.

For example, thoracentesis may be used as a diagnostic procedure, and as a palliative treatment to provide symptomatic relief. Only curative surgery can potentially remove all cancer from a patient with mesothelioma.

However, for curative surgery to be effective, it is particularly important that mesothelioma be diagnosed as early as possible. Unfortunately, mesothelioma is not usually diagnosed until it reaches Stage III or IV, when surgery is not an option. (Surgery can only be performed during mesothelioma stages I and II.)

Most forms of chemotherapy involve the intravenous administration of drugs such as Alimta and Cisplatin. Chemotherapeutic drugs are targeted to kill cells that are rapidly dividing by interfering with processes that occur during cell division.

However, while cancer cells themselves divide rapidly, so do some types of healthy cells, causing some of the unpleasant side effects that are often associated with this form of treatment. Though older chemotherapy medications seemed to do little to fight mesothelioma, newer chemotherapy drugs are showing much promise.

A relatively new form of chemotherapy called heated chemotherapy is an option for patients with peritoneal mesothelioma.

This treatment is carried out following surgery, and involves the perfusion of heated chemotherapeutic medications into the peritoneum.

Radiation therapy, or “ionizing radiation”, is used to kill cancer cells and to limit the spread of cancer. For patients with mesothelioma, radiation therapy is most often used in conjunction with surgery.

However, in some cases radiation may be used as a stand-alone treatment to relieve pain and other symptoms associated with mesothelioma. In either case, it is rare for radiation therapy to provide more than short-term symptomatic relief.

Mesothelioma patients may receive one of two types of radiation therapies, depending on whether or not they are suitable candidates for either procedure.

External beam radiation therapy is the traditional type of radiation therapy, where tumors are bombarded with beams of radiation to kill cancer cells. Brachytherapy is a newer type of radiation treatment. It involves tiny radioactive rods which are implanted within a tumor to provide a strong, concentrated dose of radiation to tumors while doing very little damage to surrounding healthy tissue.

Photodynamic therapy is a highly specialized and specific form of treatment that is most often used to treat skin cancers, some types of lung cancer, and pleural mesothelioma.

However, this treatment is usually unsuitable for patients with metastasized cancer; it is most effective in patients who have localized disease.

This type of therapy involves the use of light energy to kill cancer cells. In photodynamic therapy treatment, the patient is given an intravenous solution of a medication that makes cancer cells highly sensitive to a particular kind of light.

One to three days after this treatment, the patient is exposed to the light, and cancer cells that have absorbed the medication are killed.

Gene therapy involves using genetic material to specifically target cancer cells and make them more vulnerable to chemotherapy treatment.

The main type of gene therapy being developed for use in mesothelioma patients is called “suicide gene therapy,” because it forces cancer cells to produce substances that cause their death.

When undergoing this type of gene therapy, the patient is treated with a non-infectious virus that has been altered with genetic material that makes them produce a particular protein.

Following this procedure, the patient is then treated with a chemotherapeutic medication that is specially formulated to be toxic only to cancer cells. This type of therapy has produced some promising results for mesothelioma patients, but it is still only available through clinical trials.

Immunotherapy is a type of treatment in which the patient’s own immune system is ‘tricked’ into killing cancer cells. A healthy, normally-functioning immune system does not kill cancer cells, because even though these are diseased cells, the immune system is unable to recognize them as being harmful.

There are two main types of immunotherapy: active and passive. In active immunotherapy, mesothelioma cancer cells are removed from a patient and then treated in a laboratory to turn them into a vaccine. Following this laboratory treatment, the patient is injected with the vaccine and if the treatment is successful, the patient’s immune system recognizes the vaccine as a harmful substance, thus recognizing the cancer as being harmful as well.

Passive immunotherapy is somewhat different in that it does not attempt to activate the patient’s immune system. Instead, it uses substances such as cytokines (molecules that direct and regulate the immune system) and other agents to help boost the patient’s immune response to their cancer.

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