Mesothelioma treatment needs to begin as soon as possible after diagnosis. Sadly, mesothelioma offers no clues to its presence. Years, perhaps decades, after an exposure to asbestos triggers the mesothelioma process, mesothelioma may be in an advanced stage when symptoms occur. At that point, mesothelioma will progress rapidly unless treatment halts its lethal path.
Whether or not surgery is a mesothelioma treatment option, it is highly likely that chemotherapy will be part of your mesothelioma treatment plan.
Mesothelioma Treatment Combining Chemotherapy and Surgery
If your mesothelioma treatment plan includes surgery, you may wonder why you also need chemotherapy. It’s not just about hedging your bets and a matter of well, let’s get both mesothelioma treatments going and see which one works.
Surgery even for someone without cancer is physically challenging. For someone with mesothelioma it may be more difficult. Chemotherapy before surgery could help shrink the size of the tumor. Then the incision may be able to be smaller, and the surgery quicker and sharper, aiding in a faster recovery time. Chemotherapy may also be helpful after surgery to try to destroy any cancer cells that were left behind. This may help delay or prevent the cancer growing back.
Mesothelioma Treatment Using Chemotherapy Alone
Mesothelioma treatment may rely on chemotherapy alone or in conjunction with some radiation treatment if surgery is out of the question. Chemotherapy can help shrink the tumor or slow its growth. It may also be your best option if the mesothelioma has spread and needs to be tackled throughout your system.
Mesothelioma treatment with chemotherapy will most likely include one or more of the following of these chemotherapy medications, according to the American Cancer Society:
- Pemetrexed (Alimta®)
- Gemcitabine (Gemzar®)
- Doxorubicin (Adriamycin®)
If mesothelioma treatment involves using a combination of two chemotherapy medications, most likely it will be pemetrexed and cisplatin. Other combinations often include pemetrexed with carboplatin, or cisplatin with gemcitabine.
Mesothelioma Treatment with Chemotherapy: How the Process Works
Mesothelioma treatment with chemotherapy will take place in cycles. Each period of treatment in the cycle will be followed by a rest period to give the body time to recover. A mesothelioma treatment with a cycle of chemotherapy lasts about three to four weeks.
Chemotherapy for mesothelioma treatment is given in one of two ways:
For “systemic therapy” – meaning throughout your system – the chemotherapy medication is injected into a vein. It then enters the bloodstream and travels throughout the body to reach and destroy cancer cells all along the way.
Chemotherapy medication for mesothelioma treatment can also directly target the area in the body where the cancer is present. This is done by inserting a small catheter tube directly into the chest for pleural mesothelioma or into the abdominal wall for peritoneal mesothelioma. Although this type of chemotherapy still sends the medication into the bloodstream, the highest concentrations of the drugs can go where it is most needed.
For this method of chemotherapy, the medications are sometimes heated before they are inserted into the body. This is called hyperthermic chemotherapy and is believed to help make the drugs more effective.
Chemotherapy Mesothelioma Treatment: Possible Side Effects
Mesothelioma treatment with chemotherapy is designed to attack cancer cells. Cancer cells divide quickly so the chemotherapy medications are designed to seek out and destroy cells that divide quickly. But other cells in the body also divide quickly. These include the cells in the bone marrow where new blood cells are made, the cells in lining of the mouth and intestines, and the hair follicles. These cells are also affected by chemotherapy. This can cause side effects.
Chemotherapy side effects may vary with the type and dose of medication and how long it is given. Common side effects include:
- Hair loss
- Mouth sores
- Loss of appetite
- Nausea and vomiting
- Increased risk of illness and infections from having fewer white blood cells
- Easy bruising or bleeding from having too few blood platelets
- Fatigue from having too few red blood cells
All of these side effects will diminish once treatment ends. Be sure to tell your doctor or nurse about what side effects you are experiencing. They can tell you ways to minimize some side effects. There are also medications that can help reduce side effects such as nausea and vomiting
There are other side effects for mesothelioma treatment with chemotherapy. Cisplatin and carboplatin can cause damage to nerves. This can sometimes cause problems in the hands and feet such as pain, burning or tingling sensations, sensitivity to cold or heat, or weakness. This usually goes away once treatment is stopped, but it can last a long time in some people.
Another known side effect is called “chemo brain.” This term applies to the diminished memory and concentration that can result from chemotherapy. Chemo brain often goes away after treatment ends. Research is underway to find out what causes it and how to prevent it.