A form of cancer mainly caused by being exposed to and breathing in the toxin asbestos, which was once used in construction-related materials such as insulation, roofing materials and floor tiles, mesothelioma is a relatively rare cancer affecting approximately 2,000 to 3,000 people each year.
The majority or up to 75 percent of all mesotheliomas start in the lining of the chest, which makes a special fluid that allows organs to move. These are referred to as pleural mesotheliomas . Another 20 to 25 percent begin in the lining of the abdomen and are called peritoneal mesotheliomas. Other more rare types of mesotheliomas can start around the heart (ericardial mesotheliomas) or the testicles (mesotheliomas of the tunica vaginalis).
Since mesothelioma spreads along nerves and blood vessels rather than growing as one large tumor, treatment to eradicate it all can be difficult.
Depending on the stage of the disease and other health-related factors, treatment for mesothelioma may include one or more of the following treatment options:
- To treat mesothelioma that starts in the chest, an operation called an extrapleural pneumonectomy, which removes not only the side of the lung affected by the mesothelioma but also the pleura lining in the chest wall, diaphragm and pericardium may be performed. If the lung is not removed, the operation is referred to a pleurectomy/decortication (P/D). For those mesotheliomas in the abdomen, surgery to “debulk” the tumor may be performed in order to remove as much of the tumor as possible.
- Other less invasive surgeries often are performed in order to remove and/or help prevent fluid build-up in the lungs, which can help relieve some of the debilitating symptoms caused by this cancer.
- This form of treatment uses high-energy rays to kill the cancerous cells. It is often used in patients who cannot undergo surgery because of poor overall health or it can be used after surgery to kill any remaining cancerous cells. Both the external and internal form of radiation is used to treat mesothelioma.
- Usually more than one type of chemotherapy is given at one time to treat mesothelioma. The most commonly used regimen is a combination of a chemotherapy agent called Alimta (pemetrexed) and cisplatin. Other chemotherapies that are also used to treat mesothelioma include: carboplatin, cyclophosphamide, doxorubicin, epirubicin, gemcitabine, ifosfamide, methotrexate, mitomycin, vinblastine, or vincristine.