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Many treatment options are available for people diagnosed with pleural malignant mesothelioma, including chemotherapy, radiation, targeted therapies, gene therapies and surgery. An extreme surgical option is a lung transplant, though this is typically used as a last resort when other measures have failed. Pleural mesothelioma, cancer that affects the lining of the lungs, is the most common type of this rare cancer, which typically affects people regularly exposed to airborne asbestos fibers for years.
When is Lung Transplantation an Option for Treating Malignant Mesothelioma?
Treatment for malignant mesothelioma depends on several factors, including the stage of cancer at diagnosis and the overall health of the patient. Lung transplantation is an uncommon treatment method for mesothelioma. In fact, it is the most extreme surgical treatment there is for pleural mesothelioma. However, for patients who meet qualifying criteria and have severe damage caused by mesothelioma, a lung transplant may be the key to a longer, fuller life.
What are the Benefits of Lung Transplantation?
If you suffer from pleural mesothelioma, there are several benefits to having a lung transplant:
A Fresh Start
With a new lung or lungs, a mesothelioma patient can start over with fresh material. Breathing becomes easier and less painful with cancer-free lung tissue.
Mesothelioma patients with lung transplants report a higher quality of life post treatment. Also, most people who receive these transplants live longer than those treated with chemotherapy or radiation alone.
What are the Drawbacks of Lung Transplantation?
A lung transplant can save or extend a patient’s life. However, it is a highly invasive procedure with several serious drawbacks:
Long Recovery Time
Recovery from surgery can require months of post-surgical downtime. During recovery, you must follow all restrictions required by your surgeon. After a lung transplant, you may be confined to bed rest for an extended period. While extended bed rest may be boring or frustrating, it is important to comply with your doctor’s instruction.
With all transplants, the body may reject the new organ or organs after surgery. To prevent rejection, patients must take drugs to suppress the immune system after a transplant. However, a suppressed immune system increases susceptibility to illness unrelated to mesothelioma, and even the common cold can be serious following a lung transplant.
A long, arduous process
Because a successful transplant depends on many factors, getting one can be a long ordeal. The length of the process can be difficult when dealing with a cancer that grows and spreads so quickly. The list of people awaiting new lungs is long, and transplant approval requires jumping through many hoops. The transplant recipient may find him or herself watching the clock while waiting for a suitable donor, as the size and condition of donated organs is crucial to success. The wait can be hard, especially since time is already limited for those with aggressive cancers like mesothelioma.
How often is Lung Transplantation Performed as a Mesothelioma Treatment?
Only rarely is lung transplantation used to treat mesothelioma. This typically only happens when a doctor determines the patient’s lungs are too damaged to continue working. In these cases, a transplant might restore quality of life and lung functionality. Although highly uncommon, lung transplantation can save the lives of patients whose mesothelioma has left them with no other options.
Page Edited by Patient Advocate 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.