Treatment for mesothelioma depends on the location of the cancer, the stage of the disease, and the patient’s age and general health. Standard mesothelioma treatment options include surgery, radiation therapy, and chemotherapy. Sometimes, these treatments for mesothelioma are combined.
Surgery is a common treatment for mesothelioma. The doctor may remove part of the lining of the chest or abdomen and some of the tissue around it. For cancer of the pleura (pleural mesothelioma), a lung may be removed in an operation called a pneumonectomy. Sometimes part of the diaphragm, the muscle below the lungs that helps with breathing, is also removed.
Another mesothelioma treatment option is radiation therapy, also called radiotherapy. Radiation therapy involves the use of high-energy rays to kill the mesothelioma cancer cells and shrink tumors.
Radiation therapy affects the mesothelioma cancer cells only in the treated area. The radiation may come from a machine (external radiation) or from putting materials that produce radiation through thin plastic tubes into the area where the mesothelioma cancer cells are found (internal radiation therapy).
Chemotherapy is the use of anticancer drugs to kill cancer cells throughout the body. Most drugs used to treat mesothelioma are given by injection into a vein (intravenous, or IV). Doctors are also studying the effectiveness of putting chemotherapy directly into the chest or abdomen (intracavitary chemotherapy).
To relieve mesothelioma symptoms and control pain, the doctor may use a needle or a thin tube to drain fluid that has built up in the chest or abdomen. The procedure for removing fluid from the chest is called thoracentesis. Removal of fluid from the abdomen is called paracentesis.
Sometimes mesothelioma treatment includes drugs given through a tube in the chest to prevent more fluid from accumulating. Radiation therapy and surgery may also be helpful in relieving symptoms of mesothelioma cancer.
New mesothelioma treatments are being studied.
Because mesothelioma cancer is very hard to control, the National Cancer Institute (NCI) is sponsoring clinical trials (research studies with people) that are designed to find new mesothelioma treatments and better ways to use current treatments.
Before any new mesothelioma treatment can be recommended for general use, doctors conduct clinical trials to find out whether the treatment is safe for patients and effective against the disease. Participation in clinical trials is an important treatment option for many patients with mesothelioma. People interested in taking part in a clinical trial should talk with their doctor.
Information about mesothelioma clinical trials is available from the Cancer Information Service (CIS) (see below) at 1–800–4–CANCER. Information specialists at the CIS use PDQ®, NCI’s cancer information database, to identify and provide detailed information about specific ongoing mesothelioma clinical trials. Patients also have the option of searching for mesothelioma clinical trials on their own. The clinical trials page on the NCI’s Cancer.gov Web site, provides general information about clinical trials and links to PDQ.
People considering taking part in misothelioma treatment clinical trials may be interested in the NCI booklet Taking Part in Clinical Trials: What Cancer Patients Need To Know. This booklet describes how research studies are carried out and explains their possible benefits and risks. The booklet is available by calling the CIS, or from the NCI Publications Locator Web Site.