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Lung Transplantation: A Viable Treatment Option for Pleural Mesothelioma?

Many treatment options are available for people diagnosed with pleural malignant mesothelioma, including chemotherapy and radiation, targeted therapies, gene therapies and surgery. Perhaps the most extreme of the surgical options is a lung transplant, which is a treatment that tends to be used as a last resort, when other measures have failed to provide results. Pleural mesothelioma—mesothelioma of the lining of the lungs—is the most common form of this rare cancer type, which typically affects people who found themselves exposed to airborne asbestos fibers on a regular basis and over the long term.

When is Lung Transplantation an Option for Treating Malignant Mesothelioma?

The type of treatment used for malignant mesothelioma is dependent on a few factors, such as the stage of the cancer at diagnosis and the overall health of the patient being treated. Lung transplantation is an uncommon treatment method for mesothelioma, as it is the most extreme surgical treatment there is for pleural mesothelioma. However, for patients who meet the qualifying criteria and whose mesothelioma has caused severe damage to the lining of the lungs, a lung transplant may be the key to a longer, fuller life.

What are the Benefits of Lung Transplantation?

There are several benefits to having a lung transplant if you are suffering with pleural mesothelioma:

A Fresh Start

With a new lung or set of lungs, a person with mesothelioma can have a chance to essentially start over, working with fresh material. Breathing can become less painful and laborious, and having functional organs not damaged by cancerous cells can yield a fresh start for someone whose pleural mesothelioma is causing them to suffer due to difficulty breathing and processing air with damaged lungs.

Length and Quality of Life

Studies have shown that people with mesothelioma who are given lung transplants report a higher quality of life post treatment, and that the majority of people who receive these transplants have higher survival rates post treatment as compared with people who were treated with chemotherapy or radiation alone.

What are the Drawbacks of Lung Transplantation?

Although lung transplantation can be a life-saving and life-extending measure, it is also a highly invasive procedure, and it is not without its share of drawbacks:

Lengthy Recovery Time

The time to recover from the surgery can be lengthy, requiring months of post-surgical downtime. The recovery period is a delicate time, and extreme care has to be taken to abide by the restrictions placed upon you by your surgeon in order to make the best of the treatment. If you have a lung transplant, you may be confined to bed rest for quite some time afterward, and while the experience may be boring at best and even downright frustrating, it is important to comply with the instructions given to you by your surgeon.

Possibility of body rejecting the new organ

With all transplants, there is the possibility that the operation will not have a fully successful result, and that your body may reject the new organ or organs after surgery. Patients are given several drugs that lower the immune system of their bodies after a transplant in order to prevent rejection from occurring. However, this is a double-edged sword, as a lowered immune system means increased susceptibility to illness unrelated to mesothelioma—even a common cold can be very dire news following a lung transplant.

It can be a long, arduous process

Because a successful transplant depends on so many factors, getting one can be a long ordeal—which is difficult when dealing with a cancer that grows and spreads so quickly. The transplant recipient may find him or herself watching the clock while waiting for a suitable donor, as the size and condition of the donated organs is crucial to the success of the operation. The wait can be very hard, especially since with aggressive cancers like mesothelioma, time is of the essence.

How often is Lung Transplantation Performed as a Mesothelioma Treatment?

Lung transplantation is used to treat mesothelioma only in rare instances, when a doctor has determined that the patient’s lungs are too damaged by cancer to continue being functional and that a transplant might be beneficial to restoring quality of life and lung functionality to the patient in question. Although highly uncommon, lung transplantation can be life-changing and life-saving for those whose mesothelioma has left them with no other options.

Page edited by Dave Foster

Dave has been a mesothelioma Patient Advocate for over 10 years. He consistently attends all major national and international mesothelioma meetings. In doing so, he is able to stay on top of the latest treatments, clinical trials, and research results. He also personally meets with mesothelioma patients and their families and connects them with the best medical specialists and legal representatives available.

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