Mesothelioma is an aggressive cancer that forms in the thin tissue (mesothelium) that lines the lungs, heart, stomach and other organs. Through extensive research and development, mesothelioma treatment options are becoming increasingly diverse and effective. In addition to traditional approaches, such as surgery, chemotherapy and radiation therapy, some patients can now consider emerging therapies, such as immunotherapy, gene therapy and photodynamic therapy.
With that said, mesothelioma is still relatively uncommon, highly complex and difficult to treat. Most oncologists outside of high-volume cancer centers have limited exposure to it, perhaps seeing only a few cases, if any, throughout their entire career. Therefore, to achieve the best possible outcome and quality of life, it’s important to seek treatment at a mesothelioma specialty clinic, such as the nationally recognized Mesothelioma Research and Treatment Center at Moffitt Cancer Center.
How is mesothelioma treated?
Multiple factors must be thoroughly analyzed to determine the optimal treatment plan for mesothelioma. In addition to the type and extent of the cancer, a key consideration is the location of the tumor and whether it can be safely removed during surgery (resected). The patient’s general health and preferences also come into play. The goal of mesothelioma treatment may be to remove as much cancerous tissue as possible, to alleviate symptoms (such as chest pain and shortness of breath) or both.
Some surgical procedures that may be considered to address malignant mesothelioma in the chest cavity include:
- Wide local excision – A surgeon removes the tumor along with a margin of surrounding healthy tissue.
- Pleurectomy and decortication – A surgeon removes a portion of the thin membrane that covers the interior wall of the chest cavity (pleura) and any visible tumors on the outside surface of the lungs.
- Extrapleural pneumonectomy – A surgeon removes a cancerous lung along with a portion of the diaphragm, a portion of the pleura and a portion of the pericardium (the thin membrane that covers the heart).
- Pleurodesis – A surgeon uses chemicals or drugs to create inflammation and adhesion between pleural layers to seal the space between the outer lining of the lungs and the chest wall. This can help prevent excess fluid from building up in the chest cavity and compressing the lungs (a common effect of mesothelioma).
- Hyperthermic intraperitoneal chemotherapy (HIPEC) – After being heated and placed directly into the stomach cavity through a medical procedure, chemotherapy drugs can be circulated for a maximum of two hours to address peritoneal mesothelioma with minimal exposure to the rest of the body.
Chemotherapy involves the administration of powerful drugs that can destroy cancerous cells or interfere with their growth and division. Some mesothelioma chemotherapy options include:
- Systemic chemotherapy – After being taken by mouth or injected into a vein or muscle, chemotherapy drugs can enter the bloodstream and travel throughout the body to reach widespread cancer cells.
- Regional chemotherapy – After being placed directly into the chest cavity or stomach cavity, chemotherapy drugs can target localized cancer cells.
High-energy X-rays are generated by an external machine (linear accelerator) and precisely directed at a tumor to destroy cancerous cells. Radiation therapy can be used to treat mesothelioma in two ways: to destroy residual cancer cells after surgery and to relieve symptoms caused by a nonresectable tumor, such as pain, difficulty swallowing and shortness of breath.
A treatment that harnesses the power of the body’s own immune system to target and destroy cancerous cells, immunotherapy has proven to be effective for treating several types of cancer and is showing promise for treating mesothelioma. The potential of immunotherapy—which is widely considered to be the future of cancer treatment—is currently being explored in mesothelioma clinical trials.
An emerging mesothelioma treatment option that is currently available in clinical trials, gene therapy uses genetic material derived from healthy cells to trigger a destructive response in cancerous cells. Specifically, the genes are introduced to the mesothelioma cells via a carrier and then “turned on” to trigger a process that causes the cells to self-destruct.
Photodynamic therapy involves the use of a light-activated drug and a light source, which are directed at cancerous cells to produce singlet oxygen, a chemical that oxidizes proteins and causes cellular death. When used in conjunction with other therapies, this treatment approach may be appropriate for early-stage mesothelioma.
Is mesothelioma curable?
There is currently no definitive cure for mesothelioma. Still, advancements in mesothelioma treatment and supportive care have significantly improved outcomes and quality of life for people with this disease. More patients than ever before are surviving for at least one year after diagnosis, and it’s possible to live with mesothelioma for 10 or more years.
Mesothelioma survival rates depend on several factors, including the type of cancer present and the stage at diagnosis. Generally speaking, patients diagnosed with stage 1 or 2 cancer and those with peritoneal (abdominal) mesothelioma have a better prognosis than patients with late-stage cancer or pleural (lung) or pericardial (heart) mesothelioma.
The five-year relative survival rates for the main types of mesothelioma are as follows:
- Pleural mesothelioma: 12%
- Peritoneal mesothelioma: 65%
- Pericardial (heart) mesothelioma: 9%
Keep in mind, these figures reflect patient outcomes from more than five years ago and do not take into account new breakthroughs in care. With timely treatment and an integrated supportive care plan, many patients can outlive their prognosis and maintain a good quality of life.
For the best outcomes, choose Moffitt first
The Mesothelioma Research and Treatment Center at Moffitt Cancer Center is home to a diverse team of specialists who focus exclusively on mesothelioma. Every day, we further expand the mesothelioma knowledge base and come one step closer to a cure. Moffitt hosts numerous clinical trials, providing our patients with opportunities to access promising new mesothelioma treatments before those options are made widely available in other settings. Our robust clinical trial program is backed by prestigious research grants, allowing us to explore groundbreaking options such as novel chemotherapy drugs and drug combinations, surgical techniques and immunotherapies.
Moffitt’s ambitious research efforts have contributed to our status as Florida’s only National Cancer Institute-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center and the state’s No. 1 cancer hospital. Furthermore, Moffitt’s mesothelioma treatment survival rates are nearly two and a half times higher than national averages.
If you would like to receive a second opinion or explore your mesothelioma treatment options with a specialist at Moffitt Cancer Center, you can request an appointment without a referral by calling 1-888-663-3488 or completing our new patient registration form online.