Mesothelioma is a rare type of terminal cancer that is caused by exposure to asbestos. “Terminal” means that it is fatal and, sadly, incurable. However, hope is still available for people who are diagnosed with mesothelioma. A cure might not be available, but patients can often achieve long-term remission and increased life expectancies with the right mesothelioma treatment.
Finding out that you or someone you love has mesothelioma is devastating. While you research mesothelioma treatments, know that information and additional resources are available at Bailey & Glasser, LLP. Our asbestos attorneys are committed to helping clients in any way possible, including connecting them to vital mesothelioma resources and working to secure the financial compensation they need to pay for cancer treatments.
Mesothelioma: The Basics
Mesothelioma is a cancer of the mesothelial tissues. These are the protective tissues and membranes that line, surround and cushion the internal organs. The most common diagnosis according to data collected by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is pleural mesothelioma, which affects the pleura or lining of the lungs. Other types impact the abdominal cavity (peritoneal mesothelioma), heart sac (pericardial mesothelioma) and tunica vaginalis (testicular mesothelioma).
The only known cause of mesothelioma is asbestos. Asbestos is a group of six minerals that have been proven to be carcinogenic, meaning they are a known human cancer risk. Prior to the 1970s, however, asbestos was used widely throughout the U.S. in a variety of commercial enterprises. It was a popular ingredient in building materials and consumer products due to its natural strength and fireproofing properties.
If someone inhales or ingests asbestos, it can develop into mesothelioma. This cancer occurs from microscopic asbestos particles or fibers getting lodged in the body, causing irritation and scar tissue over time, and making genetic changes to the cells that result in cancer. There is a long latency period of anywhere from 20-60+ years from the time that an individual is exposed to asbestos to the development of mesothelioma.
Is Mesothelioma Always Fatal?
There is currently no known cure for malignant mesothelioma. It is a terminal illness, meaning it will eventually take the life of a person who is diagnosed. The average life expectancy for a mesothelioma patient is currently around 12 to 21 months with treatment (source: the National Library of Medicine).
According to recent data published by Penn Medicine, the five-year survival rate for mesothelioma is about 10 percent. However, there are records of patients who far outlive their life expectancies. With the right treatments, some have achieved long-term remission and survived for 5, 10 or more years from their date of diagnosis.
What Is Multimodal Therapy?
The right treatment plan can improve a patient’s prognosis for the future after receiving a mesothelioma diagnosis. The most popular option is multimodal therapy, or a health care strategy that involves more than one type of treatment. This can attack the cancer from multiple angles. A combination of surgery and chemotherapy, for example, can eradicate the highest number of mesothelioma cancer cells.
What Is the Best Treatment for Mesothelioma?
The answer to this question depends on the patient’s unique diagnosis, prognosis and needs. No two patients are exactly alike. A treatment plan must be custom-tailored to the individual patient for optimal results. One of the factors that determine the ideal treatment plan for a mesothelioma patient is the type of cancer and where it is located in the body. Pericardial mesothelioma, for example, is so close to the heart that it often makes surgery a challenge.
Another factor in determining the best treatment is the stage of the cancer at the time of diagnosis. Mesothelioma stages are based on how much the cancer has metastasized, or spread, throughout the body. This impacts the patient’s treatment options, as fewer treatments are available after the cancer has spread to multiple parts of the body. With stage IV mesothelioma, for example, surgery is often not a treatment option.
Where to Get the Best Treatment for Mesothelioma
Coming up with the best treatment plan for you or a loved one requires working with a health care or oncology team. Your team may include an oncologist, mesothelioma specialist, other doctors, one or more nurses, a pharmacist, a dietician, and a social worker. Having a multidisciplinary cancer team supporting you can help ensure that you don’t miss any opportunities for mesothelioma treatments and long-term remission.
Surgery for Mesothelioma
If a mesothelioma patient is eligible for surgery, this is generally the first course of action taken after receiving a diagnosis. Surgery can be used to remove as much cancer tissue as possible. It is most effective in the early stages of mesothelioma – stages I or II.
To be eligible for surgery, a mesothelioma patient must be of the right age and health status to make the potential benefits of an operation outweigh the risks. The location of the cancer tissue and whether it has metastasized also determines eligibility for surgery.
Curative vs. Cytoreductive vs. Therapeutic Surgery
Surgeries to treat mesothelioma are often referred to as cytoreductive and/or therapeutic rather than curative. The purpose of curative surgery is to cure a condition, ideally with low odds of recurrence. Since mesothelioma has no cure, cytoreductive and therapeutic surgeries are more common.
Cytoreductive surgery is used to remove as much cancer tissue and cancer cells as possible from a patient. Therapeutic surgery helps to improve a patient’s health, comfort and quality of life. Both of these surgical options may be used to treat a patient with mesothelioma. The specific type of surgical procedure depends on the type of mesothelioma.
- Extrapleural pneumonectomy (EPP) removes the lung that has cancer cells, as well as part of the membrane covering the heart (the pericardium), part of the diaphragm and part of the chest’s protective membrane (the parietal pleura). This is a serious procedure, as it removes an entire lung; however, it allows for maximum cancer tissue removal.
- Pleurectomy and decortication (P/D) removes the entire pleura from the cancerous lung. It also removes tumors and fibrous tissue from the surface of the lung. A P/D procedure preserves the lung while removing a portion of the diaphragm and a portion of the pericardium.
- Pleurodesis is a procedure that adheres the lung to the chest wall to remove this space and prevent future pleural effusion. Pleural effusion, or the buildup of excessive fluid in the space between the lungs and the chest wall, is a common symptom of pleural mesothelioma that can make it difficult for the patient to breathe.
- Peritonectomy surgery removes as much cancer tissue and growth as possible from the abdomen by removing part of multiple organs in the abdominal cavity. This may include the stomach, intestines, spleen and pancreas.
- Debulking (or cytoreductive surgery) refers to the removal of the entire peritoneum, or the lining of the abdomen, to treat peritoneal mesothelioma.
- Hyperthermic Intraperitoneal Chemotherapy (HIPEC) combines surgery and chemotherapy to treat cancers of the abdomen. First, surgeons remove as much cancerous tissue as possible from the abdominal cavity. Then, doctors use heated chemotherapy medications to target and destroy the remaining cancer cells.
- Pericardiectomy removes part or all of the sac that surrounds the heart (the pericardium). This surgery can remove cancer tissue as well as reduce a buildup of fluid around the heart to relieve pressure, about 50 percent of patients who are diagnosed with pericardial mesothelioma are eligible for this type of surgery.
Testicular Mesothelioma Surgery
- Orchiectomy removes the cancerous testicle and the spermatic cord. Most patients with testicular mesothelioma are eligible for this surgical option.
Surgical intervention for mesothelioma is often followed by chemotherapy to shrink or kill any remaining cancer cells that were not removed in the surgery. Chemotherapy uses powerful chemicals to complete this task. Chemotherapy is often administered through oral drugs or intravenously. The standard chemotherapy drug mixture for mesothelioma is cisplatin or carboplatin with pemetrexed.
Chemotherapy can limit new tumor growth and stop cancer cells from multiplying to help a patient achieve and stay in remission. While it cannot cure mesothelioma, studies show that chemotherapy can improve a patient’s survival rate. It can also help with overall comfort and quality of life by shrinking tumors and reducing the pressure that a tumor might exert on the organs.
Chemotherapy treatments are typically ongoing throughout a patient’s treatment, not a one-time administration.
Radiation therapy is similar to chemotherapy in that it is also used to destroy cancer cells. Rather than using chemicals, however, radiation therapy uses ionizing radiation rays directed at the cells. The most common form of radiation therapy is photon beam radiation, which is the same type as an x-ray but in a more powerful dose. Particle radiation therapy may also be used to kill cancer cells while keeping damage to healthy tissues at a minimum.
Targeted therapy detects and attacks specific cancer cells. It works in a similar way to chemotherapy but is more discerning in the cells that it targets and damages. This can reduce the harm done to normal, healthy cells. Chemotherapy and radiation therapy, on the other hand, are broader techniques that can damage surrounding cells in an effort to eliminate cancer cells, sometimes causing adverse side effects.
Part of a mesothelioma patient’s health care plan may be immunotherapy. This is a treatment used to boost a patient’s immune system to help him or her fight mesothelioma. It is a type of biological therapy that uses medicine to help boost or restore the patient’s natural defenses against cancer. Immunotherapy drugs are made in a laboratory to mimic substances naturally created by the immune system.
The treatment options listed above are meant to kill cancer cells and stop or slow the growth of tumors in a patient with mesothelioma. Palliative treatments, on the other hand, aim to alleviate symptoms and improve a patient’s quality of life. Mesothelioma causes many symptoms that can be painful, uncomfortable or debilitating for a patient. Patients who experience shortness of breath, for example, may no longer be able to engage in their favorite hobbies or activities. Palliative care can relieve these symptoms.
Examples of palliative care for mesothelioma patients are:
- Palliative surgeries
- Palliative radiation therapy
- Pleurocentesis or thoracentesis to remove excess fluid buildup in the lungs
- Pleurodesis (eliminating the space where fluid can build up)
- Paracentesis to remove excess fluid from the abdomen
- Pericardiocentesis to remove excess fluid around the heart
- Placement of a catheter to prevent a buildup of fluid
Palliative care can give a mesothelioma patient back some enjoyment of life and independence. It can improve the patient’s quality of life and restore abilities that the cancer – and cancer treatments, which can have unpleasant side effects – took away. If the cancer has progressed to a stage where it is untreatable, palliative care can still be used to maintain or enhance quality of life as much as possible for the patient’s remaining time.
Clinical Trials and Emerging Mesothelioma Treatments
In recent years, researchers, scientists and physicians have made enormous strides toward learning more about mesothelioma and how to treat it. Life expectancies for patients who are diagnosed with this cancer have vastly improved in the last few decades based on new information learned about mesothelioma. The wealth of knowledge about mesothelioma is only continuing to grow, thanks to modern medicine, medical technology advancements and research teams who are dedicated to finding a cure.
One of the many sources of hope for mesothelioma patients is the opportunity to join a clinical trial. Clinical trials experiment with new mesothelioma treatment methods by testing them on qualifying patients. While results are not guaranteed, it could give the patient early access to treatment methods that may become part of the standard of care in the future. This can include new approaches to immunotherapy and targeted therapy drugs. If you are curious about joining a clinical trial in your area, ask your doctor or oncologist.
Are You Eligible for Compensation to Help Offset the Costs of Mesothelioma Treatment?
If you or a loved one requires mesothelioma treatment, you may be facing significant medical bills for surgeries, therapies, palliative treatments and end-of-life care. Filing a mesothelioma lawsuit could result in financial compensation awarded to help you and your family pay for these treatments.
A lawsuit, insurance settlement, workers’ compensation claim, veterans’ claim or an asbestos trust fund could pay for all or part of your past and future required mesothelioma treatments, giving your family greater peace of mind during this difficult time.
At Bailey & Glasser, LLP, we understand how devastating a mesothelioma diagnosis is for patients and their families. Consult with our asbestos attorneys for more information about how to pursue financial compensation for mesothelioma treatments.