Mesothelioma is a tough diagnosis. Doctors struggle to diagnose the disease early, and that limits their ability to pursue the most aggressive and effective treatments. Even so, most people diagnosed with mesothelioma live for more than a year, and researchers are continually pressing for ways to help people live even longer.
While there’s currently no standard cure, doctors use several different treatments to fight or slow the disease. In some cases, these may even force cancer into remission. More often, they lengthen and improve the quality of people’s lives.
Mesothelioma shares many of its symptoms with far more common diseases. As a result, doctors often fail to diagnose mesothelioma until it has reached its later stages. Surgery is rarely an option in these cases. But when doctors manage to find the mesothelioma early enough, surgery can sometimes cure it.
Surgery may be an option in other cases, as well. As the Mayo Clinic reports, surgery may be used to:
- Release fluid from the lungs, making it easier to breathe
- Remove the tissue that surrounds the ribs and lungs to relieve some symptoms of the disease
- Remove a lung, which also allows doctors to pursue more aggressive radiation treatment
The Mayo Clinic notes that even when surgeons remove the cancer, the surgery may be accompanied by chemotherapy.
Chemotherapy is a common treatment for many cancers, and it’s a common component of any mesothelioma treatment. It uses targeted chemicals to kill cancer cells.
As of 2014, the National Cancer Institute (NCI) listed one drug and one drug combination that the FDA had approved for treatment use:
- Pemetrexed disodium
The NCI noted there might be more drugs used in mesothelioma treatment than were listed on its site.
Targeted drug therapy
Targeted drug therapy sounds a lot like chemotherapy. They both introduce chemicals into the victim’s body to make things better. But where chemotherapy uses chemicals to attack the cancer cells, targeted drug therapies aim for other effects.
According to the American Cancer Society, one targeted drug therapy uses bevacizumab to block the growth of blood vessels that would feed the cancer tumors. Doctors might use other drugs to attack the tumors and then use this treatment to keep things from sliding back downhill.
In radiation therapy, doctors use X-rays and other high-energy beams to kill cancer cells. As the Mayo Clinic notes, doctors may use radiation therapy as clean-up after surgery, or they may use it to reduce the symptoms of more advanced cancers.
Tumor treating fields
One of the more recent advances in mesothelioma treatment is the use of tumor treating fields (TTF). TTF uses transducers to shoot electrical fields through a patient’s body and slow tumor growth. The FDA approved the first TTF device in May 2019, citing clinical tests that showed it extended victims’ survival rates.
Doctors often prescribe drugs to ease the pain of mesothelioma victims. Doctors may also use surgery and radiation therapy may as part of a broader pain management effort.
Other treatment options
The Mayo Clinic and American Cancer Society list a few different treatment options that are still relatively unproven:
- Immunotherapy uses drugs to boost the immune system’s response, encouraging it to fight the cancer
- Gene therapy uses viruses to alter cancer cells, making them easier for immune systems to target
- In vaccine therapy, scientists draw blood, work to get the white blood cells to respond to cancer cells and then reintroduce them to the victim’s body to attack the cancer
Notably, these treatments are similar in the way they aim to spur a victim’s body’s immune system to fight the cancer. The early results have been positive.
There may be more treatment options in the future
Because many researchers around the world have dedicated themselves to mesothelioma research, it often seems as though there are new options introduced every month. Depending on their situations, some people may want to consider signing up for clinical trials of these new treatments.