Since malignant mesothelioma is difficult to diagnose and can take years to exhibit outside symptoms, it often goes undetected until it has reached advanced stages.
There are a number of mesothelioma treatment options, some curative, some palliative. Each mesothelioma patient is different, but charting a treatment course depends largely on a number of factors:
- Type of mesothelioma and location
- Size of any tumors
- The degree to which the cancer has spread
- Cancer stage: I, II, III or IV
- Age of the patient
- General health of the patient
There is not currently a cure for mesothelioma, other than attempting to rid the body of cancerous cells through surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy. Most medical procedures are intended to provide comfort to patients (called palliative care), rather than cure mesothelioma. Curative approaches can be effective as Stage I and Stage II mesothelioma treatments, but Stage III and IV mesothelioma treatments are typically aimed at pain management.
Surgery can be used for curative or palliative reasons. In the fortunate instance where the disease is diagnosed in its early stages, surgery can be effective at removing the malignancy. Sometimes the cancer returns months or years later, but sometimes it does not. If conducted in the early stages of mesothelioma treatment, surgery has markedly increased life expectancy. However, once the malignancy expands outside the membrane lining itself, surgery is only effective at providing physical comfort in a patient's last remaining months. Malignant tumors in the mesothelium cause fluid build-up in the lungs and abdomen cavity, which can be quite painful and lead to difficulty breathing or swallowing. Surgery can drain this fluid temporarily and relieve the pressure.
Radiation therapy uses high-energy x-rays to kill cancer cells. It is most often used for palliative reasons, where the patient's health has declined to the point where they are unable to tolerate surgery or chemotherapy. Aimed at alleviating symptoms such as breathing difficulties, bleeding, or difficulty swallowing, radiation has no curative qualities.
Like radiation, chemotherapy has little curative purpose, but can be quite effective at prolonging life expectancy. For most mesothelioma patients, doctors inject drugs intravenously. The drugs kill off cancer cells, but unfortunately also kill healthy cells as well. New drugs are being tested that have less side effects than traditional chemotherapy medications.
In sum, mesothelioma treatment is difficult and often largely ineffective at curing the disease. Even with aggressive treatment, mesothelioma carries a very poor long-term prognosis. Palliative options are best to make the patient as comfortable as possible. This description is intended to explain some of the treatment options available, but the decision is between you and your doctor.
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