Mesothelioma is a tumor that develops due to prolonged exposure to asbestos. Asbestos is a naturally occurring harmful substance that can reach the lining of internal organs such as the lungs, abdomen, and heart. Depending on the location, experts categorize mesothelioma into pleural mesothelioma (pleural mesothelioma), peritoneal mesothelioma (abdomen), and pericardial mesothelioma (heart sac).
Mesothelioma is a cancer that is not location-specific like many others. Instead, it grows towards other nearby surfaces, organs, and nerves. Mesothelioma develops when asbestos fibers reach the internal lining and cause scarring and inflammation of cells, leading to cell damage. The cell damage further leads to abnormal growth and multiplication of body cells without necessary cell death during the lifecycle. Various treatments are available for mesothelioma. However, not every treatment is suitable for all types as suitability depends on multiple factors.
Factors affecting mesothelioma treatment
The first step after a mesothelioma diagnosis is starting treatment with an expert. The treatment can vary depending on many factors such as the mesothelioma and cancer cell type, the stage of cancer and its spread, the patient’s personal preference, their strength and much more. Depending on these factors, the doctor may recommend the patient one or a combination of the below-mentioned treatment options:
- Radiation therapy
- Targeted therapy
- Gene Therapy
- Photodynamic Therapy
Mostly, there is no complete cure for mesothelioma, and any treatment applied to the patient only results in a better prognosis and improved symptoms. Moreover, cancer spreads quickly after diagnosis, so the doctors often have a few treatment options. When diagnosed with mesothelioma, you could download a free guide about your treatment options to understand things better. Patients’ understanding of their disease can make things easier when they undergo treatment.
Traditional treatments for mesothelioma
Traditionally mesothelioma has been treated with surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy. Following are the treatments for the most common type of mesothelioma known as pleural mesothelioma.
The surgical procedures for pleural mesothelioma include Extrapleural Pneumonectomy (EPP) and Pleurectomy Decortication (P/D). EPP removes the entire lung and nearby areas affected by cancer which may have spread to the chest, lymph nodes, heart linings, and diaphragm. P/D only removes the affected areas of the lungs, pleural lining, heart lining, diaphragm, and chest wall lining, separating the healthy parts.
Chemotherapy is a cancer treatment that uses powerful drugs to kill the cancer cells and stop them from growing. Experts use chemotherapy in combination with other treatments such as radiation therapy. The doctor also uses it as the primary treatment for cancer in some situations. When used before surgery, it is called neoadjuvant chemotherapy therapy, which shrinks the cancer cells and reduces their spread.
Chemotherapy treatment used after the surgery is called adjuvant therapy. It kills the remaining cancer cells that the surgical treatment might have missed. All in all, chemotherapy can reduce the growth of cancer cells but cannot cure it completely.
Ways to administer chemotherapy
Before making a decision, an oncologist will consider many factors. These may include the type, stage, and spread of mesothelioma, age, overall health, and responses to previously administered drugs. There are two ways that an oncologist can use to administer chemotherapy:
- Systemic chemotherapy is when the chemotherapy is administered in the form of pills and intravenous injections in the veins or muscles. The medicines enter the person’s body through the bloodstream and circulate the entire body.
- Regional chemotherapy is when the drugs are sent directly to the part of the body impacted by mesothelioma. Doctors use tinny tubes to inject the medicine may the patient get fever from this. In some cases, they will heat the drugs before transferring them to the target.
- Mesothelioma Radiation treatment
Radiation is the third form of treatment primarily used in handling mesothelioma and other cancer types. The purpose is to prevent the spread of tumor cells and ultimately destroy them.
As a result, the tumor shrinks, improving diagnosis and prognosis. In mesothelioma, radiation therapy is tricky because the cancer cells do not make one apparent mass; instead, they start spreading to other areas. So, often it is challenging to keep the radiation away from healthy tissues.
The doctors may use radiation after a surgical procedure to kill tumor cells that the surgery may have missed. Radiation is also sometimes used as a palliative treatment to improve pain, bleeding, shortness of breath and the overall quality of life.
How are radiations given to mesothelioma patients?
Like in chemotherapy and surgery, doctors can give radiation therapy to patients in combination with other treatments. There are two ways to perform radiation:
- External Beam Radiation Therapy: External beam radiation therapy, also known by its acronym EBRT, is the most common way to give radiation therapy to patients. The machine outside the body sends radiation to destroy the cancer cells. This way resembles an X-ray system, but the rays are much stronger. It can take the doctor and their team some time to prepare you for the treatment; the actual procedures last only a few minutes.
- Internal Radiotherapy: Also known as Brachytherapy, is the most infrequently used radiation therapy. In this procedure, a radioactive substance is placed in the needles, wires, seeds, catheters and taken to the cancer site inside the body. This radiation therapy causes less damage to the nearby tissues as the radiation does not travel far.
Emerging treatments of mesothelioma
Apart from the traditionally used treatments for mesothelioma, medical science has successfully developed new therapies due to their extensive research and development.
This involves using nitrogen gas to freeze the cancer cells. The doctor can use this treatment before surgery to shrink cancer cells, after the surgery to reduce the reoccurrence, and sometimes as a palliative treatment. It is a non-invasive treatment used to cure mesothelioma.
- Gene Therapy
In this treatment, the genetic makeup of the healthy or cancerous cells is modified to cure the person. This treatment also involves adding new genes to cancer cells, making them easier to destroy.
- Photodynamic Therapy
This therapy uses light-activated medicines to collect and destroy cancer cells. The drugs are light-sensitive, so they get activated by the laser light sent inside the body.
The therapy uses a virus to attack and destroy the cancer cells. In some types of virotherapy, immunotherapy and gene therapy are used together to enhance the effectiveness of the treatment.
With excessive research about mesothelioma, medical science has developed new treatments. Today, patients have numerous options available than ever before. Previously, radiation, chemotherapy, and surgery were used to treat mesothelioma and other types of cancers. Now doctors are also using emerging treatments like immunotherapy, gene therapy, and others to kill the cancer cells and improve patients’ symptoms.