Apr 28, 2010

Mesothelioma Treatments

Mesothelioma Cure
Though a cure for mesothelioma does not currently exist, many patients elect to undergo treatment to combat the cancer. Patients may also wish to participate in clinical trials conducted to test up-and-coming treatments and medications before they are released and recommended for public use. Clinical trials are extremely important in the search for a mesothelioma cure. Knowledge gained from study results greatly help medical professionals come closer to the discovery of a cure for mesothelioma.

5-Year Survival Rates for Mesothelioma
Certain doctors such as Dr. David Sugarbaker have actively pursued better treatment options for mesothelioma patients and have been instrumental in the quest for a cure. Utilizing a multi-modal approach, Dr. Sugarbaker has made great strides in mesothelioma treatment and has increased survival rates for mesothelioma patients.
Learning that a cure does not exist can be discouraging to mesothelioma patients and their loved ones, but stories of survivors continue to surface, instilling hope in those affected by the cancer.

Mesothelioma Surgery
Surgical treatments for mesothelioma include three main types - diagnostic surgery, curative surgery, and palliative surgery. Some types of surgery fall into more than one category.
Surgery can only be performed during mesothelioma stages I and II.
For example, thoracentesis may be used as a diagnostic procedure, and as a palliative treatment to provide symptomatic relief. Only curative surgery can potentially remove all cancer from a patient with mesothelioma.
However, for curative surgery to be effective, it is particularly important that mesothelioma be diagnosed as early as possible. Unfortunately, mesothelioma is not usually diagnosed until it reaches Stage III or IV, when surgery is not an option.

Mesothelioma Chemotherapy
Most forms of chemotherapy involve the intravenous administration of drugs such as Alimta and Cisplatin. Chemotherapeutic drugs are targeted to kill cells that are rapidly dividing by interfering with processes that occur during cell division.
Chemotherapy is an effective treatment option but comes with unpleasant side effects.
However, while cancer cells themselves divide rapidly, so do some types of healthy cells, causing some of the unpleasant side effects that are often associated with this form of treatment. Though older chemotherapy medications seemed to do little to fight mesothelioma, newer chemotherapy drugs are showing much promise.
A relatively new form of chemotherapy called heated chemotherapy is an option for patients with peritoneal mesothelioma.
This treatment is carried out following surgery, and involves the perfusion of heated chemotherapeutic medications into the peritoneum.

Mesothelioma Radiation
Radiation therapy, or "ionizing radiation", is used to kill cancer cells and to limit the spread of cancer. For patients with mesothelioma, radiation therapy is most often used in conjunction with surgery.
Radiation is often used in conjunction with surgery.
However, in some cases radiation may be used as a stand-alone treatment to relieve pain and other symptoms associated with mesothelioma. In either case, it is rare for radiation therapy to provide more than short-term symptomatic relief.
Mesothelioma patients may receive one of two types of radiation therapies, depending on whether or not they are suitable candidates for either procedure.
External beam radiation therapy is the traditional type of radiation therapy, where tumors are bombarded with beams of radiation to kill cancer cells. Brachytherapy is a newer type of radiation treatment. It involves tiny radioactive rods which are implanted within a tumor to provide a strong, concentrated dose of radiation to tumors while doing very little damage to surrounding healthy tissue.

Photodynamic Therapy
Photodynamic therapy is a highly specialized and specific form of treatment that is most often used to treat skin cancers, some types of lung cancer, and pleural mesothelioma.
Photodynamic therapy uses light energy to kill cancer cells.
However, this treatment is usually unsuitable for patients with metastasized cancer; it is most effective in patients who have localized disease.
This type of therapy involves the use of light energy to kill cancer cells. In photodynamic therapy treatment, the patient is given an intravenous solution of a medication that makes cancer cells highly sensitive to a particular kind of light.
One to three days after this treatment, the patient is exposed to the light, and cancer cells that have absorbed the medication are killed.

Gene Therapy
Gene therapy involves using genetic material to specifically target cancer cells and make them more vulnerable to chemotherapy treatment.
"Suicide Gene Therapy" is the most popular form of gene therapy being used.
The main type of gene therapy being developed for use in mesothelioma patients is called "suicide gene therapy," because it forces cancer cells to produce substances that cause their death.
When undergoing this type of gene therapy, the patient is treated with a non-infectious virus that has been altered with genetic material that makes them produce a particular protein.
Following this procedure, the patient is then treated with a chemotherapeutic medication that is specially formulated to be toxic only to cancer cells. This type of therapy has produced some promising results for mesothelioma patients, but it is still only available through clinical trials.
Immunotherapy is a type of treatment in which the patient's own immune system is 'tricked' into killing cancer cells. A healthy, normally-functioning immune system does not kill cancer cells, because even though these are diseased cells, the immune system is unable to recognize them as being harmful.
There are two main types of immunotherapy: active and passive. In active immunotherapy, mesothelioma cancer cells are removed from a patient and then treated in a laboratory to turn them into a vaccine. Following this laboratory treatment, the patient is injected with the vaccine and if the treatment is successful, the patient's immune system recognizes the vaccine as a harmful substance, thus recognizing the cancer as being harmful as well.
Passive immunotherapy is somewhat different in that it does not attempt to activate the patient's immune system. Instead, it uses substances such as cytokines (molecules that direct and regulate the immune system) and other agents to help boost the patient's immune response to their cancer.

Additional Treatment Resources
We provide extensive resources to educate and benefit those affected by asbestos exposure. One of our main goals is to provide help and assistance to those coping with asbestos-related disease, and we offer a complimentary comprehensive packet that can be mailed directly to you overnight. The packet allows you to take our Web site and additional educational information with you to share with your family wherever you go.
To learn more about the range of treatment options available to mesothelioma patients, please fill out this form to receive your packet. Our Patient and Family Advocates are also happy to answer any questions or address concerns you may have over the phone.

Mesothelioma Diagnosis

Mesothelioma Diagnostic Tests

If your doctor suspects an asbestos-related disease such as mesothelioma, the next step in the diagnostic process includes testing to confirm the presence of mesothelioma, determine the location, size and type of cancer involved, and determine whether the asbestos cancer has spread to other parts of the body. This will often involve imaging tests such as:

Chest X-ray: This is the most commonly used imaging test for the diagnosis of mesothelioma. Almost all diagnoses will involve an X-ray, but a more sophisticated test may follow.

CT Scan: This is an X-ray-like procedure in which several X-ray pictures are taken and combined with a computer to produce a detailed image of body tissues. If you undergo a CT scan, you may be given an intravenous injection of dye that helps produce more detailed images.

PET Scan: A glucose solution is administered through intravenous injection and a scanner is used to spot deposits of cancer cells. Malignant cells take up and use sugars more quickly than normal cells, so they can be easily distinguished using this procedure.

MRI Scan: A combination of radio waves and a strong magnetic field is used to create detailed three-dimensional images that can be carefully examined by a radiologist.

Fluid and Tissue Tests

These tests, also known as biopsy tests, involve collecting small samples of fluid or tissue and checking them for the presence of cancer cells. Such tests include:

Fine Needle Aspiration: Mesothelioma cancers cause fluid to build up in affected locations, such as in the pleural membrane. During a fine needle aspiration, a doctor will remove a fluid sample using a very long, thin and hollow needle.

Thoracoscopy: Thoracoscopy is used in cases where pleural or pericardial mesothelioma is suspected. During this procedure, a very small incision is made in the chest wall and a sample of tissue is removed.

Bronchoscopy and Laparoscopy: These procedures are similar to the thoracoscopy, but are performed on different parts of the body. The bronchoscopy is used to view the trachea and airway, while the laparoscopy is used to remove samples of peritoneal tissue.

Mediastinoscopy: This procedure is used to view lymph nodes in the chest and neck, to determine if cancer has spread from its point of origin.

After Diagnosis

The oncologist (a cancer doctor), who should be well-versed in treating mesothelioma, will help determine the best options for treatment. Patients should also educate themselves about mesothelioma and treatment options and reach out to available resources to make coping with a diagnosis easier. Our patient and family advocates are available to speak with patients and family members to answer questions and provide additional information and guidance.

Mesothelioma Symptoms

A patient with mesothelioma often demonstrates symptoms 15 to 50 years after initial exposure to asbestos. The cancer may take decades to develop in the body and symptoms do not arise until after the cancer is present. Many patients are unaware of the severity of their condition since mesothelioma symptoms typically resemble symptoms of less serious illnesses.

If you have a history of asbestos exposure, the leading cause of mesothelioma, it is best to seek immediate medical advice. Informing your doctor of previous asbestos exposure can alert them to the possibility of an asbestos-related disease such as mesothelioma.

Early Symptoms of MesotheliomaUnfortunately, there are practically no early symptoms of mesothelioma, which is why the disease is commonly diagnosed at a late stage of development. In the interest of early detection, those who were exposed to asbestos but have not yet exhibited symptoms should undergo regular chest X-rays or pulmonary function tests to monitor any adverse affects of asbestos inhalation.

When a doctor informs a patient of a mesothelioma diagnosis, patients and their loved ones are often very confused since the cancer is relatively unknown. Asbestos.com provides a complimentary packet with comprehensive information about mesothelioma symptoms and next-step guidance following a diagnosis.

Pleural Mesothelioma SymptomsPleural mesothelioma is the most common form of the cancer, comprising approximately two-thirds of all mesothelioma cases.

Known symptoms of pleural mesothelioma include:

  • Persistent dry or raspy cough (typically non-productive, meaning there is little or no phlegm)
  • Coughing up blood (hemoptysis)
  • Difficulty in swallowing (dysphagia)
  • Night sweats or fever
  • Unexplained weight loss of 10 percent or more
  • Fatigue
  • Persistent pain in the chest or rib area, or painful breathing
  • Shortness of breath (dyspnea) that occurs even when at rest
  • The appearance of lumps under the skin on the chest

Symptoms of pleural mesothelioma occur as a result of thickening of the pleural membrane, caused by the rapid production of cancerous cells which can lead to the buildup of fluid between membrane layers. Tissue thickening and fluid buildup place pressure on the lungs, leading to reduced respiratory function.

Peritoneal Mesothelioma SymptomsPeritoneal mesothelioma accounts for approximately 25 to 30 percent of mesothelioma diagnoses and symptoms may include:

  • Night sweats or fever
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Swelling or pain in the abdomen
  • Anemia
  • Fatigue
  • Diarrhea or constipation (in general, any change in bowel habits or regularity)
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • The appearance of lumps under the skin on the abdomen

Symptoms are caused by the thickening of the peritoneal membrane and the resulting build-up of fluid between membrane layers. These changes in membrane composition put pressure on the abdominal region and organs, causing a patient to demonstrate symptoms of the cancer.

Pericardial Mesothelioma SymptomsPericardial mesothelioma accounts for less than 5 percent of all mesothelioma. Symptoms are caused by thickening of the pericardial membrane and fluid buildup. Known symptoms include:

  • Heart palpitations or irregular heartbeat
  • Chest pain
  • Difficulty breathing, even when resting (dyspnea)
  • Fever or night sweats
  • Generalized fatigue

Pericardial mesothelioma is so rare that the recognized body of symptoms is not as well-developed as with more common types of mesothelioma. It is a particularly difficult type of mesothelioma to diagnose, and this correlates to a poor prognosis among pericardial mesothelioma patients.

Testicular Mesothelioma SymptomsTesticular mesothelioma is an extremely rare form of cancer, as less than 100 cases of testicular mesothelioma have been recorded in the last 60 years. With so few cases recorded, very little is known about the symptoms of this disease. The only known symptom of testicular mesothelioma is the appearance of testicular lumps, and the lumps may or may not be painful.