Mesothelioma is an aggressive, difficult to treat type of cancer. It is nearly impossible to cure, and yet there are many treatment options that can extend a patient’s life or simply make someone more comfortable. From surgery to chemotherapy, emerging treatments, and even alternative therapies, patients have options. With loved ones, with all the information, and with a great medical team, you can make the right choices about your mesothelioma treatment.
Though mesothelioma remains a challenging diagnosis, innovations in various therapies have enabled doctors to provide patients with longer survival rates and improved quality of life. In addition to constantly improving therapies and expanding available options, mesothelioma patients now benefit from a wide array of specialized mesothelioma treatment centers located around the country, all of which provide compassionate, effective care.
The strides that have been made in mesothelioma treatment include improvements in the ability to diagnose the condition more accurately, as well as enhanced surgical protocols, and experimental new treatments, like gene therapy. Many of these improvements are being made in clinical trials and there is great promise for new, better treatments.
Though medicine and science have not yet found a cure for this rare and difficult disease, significant progress has been made and patients are able to live longer and more comfortable lives despite their diagnosis.
At one time a mesothelioma diagnosis automatically meant that patients could not hope to live for more than a year. Modern advances have greatly increased the life expectancy after a mesothelioma diagnosis. This is a result of the various improvements that have been made in all areas of treatment.
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Consult a Mesothelioma Specialist
One of the most important things you can do for yourself if you’ve been diagnosed with mesothelioma is to choose a mesothelioma specialist to treat your condition. Physicians who have dedicated themselves to the treatment of mesothelioma have extensive knowledge and experience in the specialized tools available to combat your specific condition. They are able to provide you with the best options and chances for longer survival.
You may start your care with your trusted internist or family doctor, and this is a great place to start. However, you will need a specialist to get the treatment you really need. Your doctor can help guide you to those professionals, and even the dedicated treatment centers, that are best equipped to give you top-notch care.
Renowned Mesothelioma Specialists
If you are looking for a mesothelioma specialist, one of the best places to look is your closest mesothelioma specialty center. These state-of-the-art treatment facilities are where you’ll find some of the country’s most noted specialists, including the likes of David Sugarbaker, M.D. at Baylor College of Medicine, Rodney Landreneau, M.D. at Ochsner Cancer Institute, and Robert Cameron, M.D. of UCLA Medical Center.
The determination of which treatment option is best for you is a decision that will be based on a number of different factors, including the type of mesothelioma you’ve been diagnosed with, your overall health, and the stage to which the disease has advanced. You may also want to consider how aggressive you want your treatment to be. Some patients want to extend their lies as much as possible, while others are more interested in being comfortable.
If you are in the early stages of mesothelioma you will likely be treated using a multi-modality approach that combines surgery with chemotherapy or radiation therapy, or perhaps that uses all three. If your disease state is more advanced, your physician will likely recommend taking a palliative approach that will provide you with relief of your symptoms and allow you to be more comfortable and enjoy a higher quality of life. In most cases, these palliative options do not involve major surgery, though some surgical treatments may be offered if they will provide pain relief.
In addition to the traditional medical treatment options of radiation therapy, chemotherapy and surgery, many mesothelioma patients have found that some of the more experimental approaches that are currently being investigated in clinical trials may be of help. You may want to discuss such options as photodynamic therapy, immunotherapy, or gene therapy with your physician. Alternative treatments can also offer relief of both stress and pain, so you may want to investigate the benefits offered by yoga, hypnosis, acupuncture or massage therapy.
There are a number of different types of surgery available for the treatment of mesothelioma. Generally speaking, surgery is most successful when the cancer has not metastasized, or spread to other parts of the body, and is limited to a contained area. When mesothelioma physicians surgically remove cancerous tumors, they will likely also utilize radiation or chemotherapy, or both, before or after the surgery in an attempt to eradicate any remaining cancer cells.
In addition to surgery in which the goal is to remove the cancer, there are other surgeries that can be offered with the goal of providing relief from pain. Even if you are in an advanced stage of mesothelioma or your overall health is not good, your physician may recommend one or more of these procedures in order to improve your comfort and quality of life. The same is true for the use of chemotherapy and radiation therapy. Some of these procedures include:
- Extrapleural pneumonectomy (EPP)
- Pleurectomy/decortication (P/D)
- Wedge Resection
Research and Clinical Trials
In addition to the existing treatments that are available, a great deal of effort is being put into finding new therapies for the treatment of mesothelioma. These new treatment types are still in the experimental phase, and are offered through clinical trials in order to allow physicians and researchers to determine their effectiveness and safety. If you are interested in being involved in a clinical trial, it is important to remember that the treatments being offered are unproven and come with no guarantees of success: they may or may not offer you a benefit.
But participation in a clinical trial does add to the body of knowledge about mesothelioma treatment, and therefore will be of definite service to future patients even if it does not provide a cure for you – and many patients have shown improvement following treatment as part of a clinical trial. Here is a third party resource for getting matched to a clinical trial:
Immunotherapy has been studied in mesothelioma patients since the 1980s. This strategy utilizes the body’s own immune system in order to fight off disease. In the treatment of mesothelioma, the immune system is stimulated to recognize cancer cells and to attack them. The body’s immune system is naturally designed to attack invading cells like viruses and bacteria, but that response can be extended to cancer cells.
Immunotherapy may be active or passive. The active treatment involves stimulating the immune systems using antigens present on the cells in a tumor. The immune cells will then attack those tumors. In passive immunotherapy the treatment is an injection of immune compounds that move to the site of the tumor and kill the cells. So far these types of treatment have shown some effectiveness and present a hopeful treatment for the future.
Gene therapy utilizes genetic material in order to fight off disease. It involves manipulating the genome in a patient to treat the illness and this strategy has already been used to successfully treat other conditions. In the treatment of mesothelioma, genetic material that targets cancer cells and kills them is injected into the body. This is just one strategy using gene therapy that is currently being studied for treatment of mesothelioma and there is a potential for more.
Photodynamic therapy utilizes light to kill cancer cells. A special solution is injected into the patient’s cancer cells in order to make them sensitive to light, and then the patient’s cancer is exposed to light in order to cause cell death. Clinical trials using this kind of therapy in patients with mesothelioma have shown that it can extend life expectancies. The solution used in these trials has already been approved for photodynamic therapy in other types of cancers and the potential for being approved for mesothelioma is high.
This emerging treatment uses cold temperatures to kill cancer cells. Cryotherapy has already been used to treat other types of cancers, but its effectiveness in mesothelioma is still being tested in clinical trials. Some patients may receive cryotherapy simply to relieve pain, as a type of palliative care. Even if it cannot eliminate a tumor, it can shrink the size, reducing pressure on the lungs or spine. Cryotherapy is safe and low risk, which makes it a desirable option for many patients.
There are many mesothelioma patients who have gotten tremendous benefit and relief from the availability of complementary and alternative treatments such as yoga, massage therapy, hypnosis, and aromatherapy. Though these treatments do not offer a cure or even extend survival, they do provide relief from stress and pain and may provide patients with better coping mechanisms.
Most mesothelioma specialists encourage their patients to seek alternative treatments concurrently with the traditional medical approaches that are being used, and alternative medicine practitioners are often part of a mesothelioma treatment team.
Some of the alternative treatments many mesothelioma patients consider using include good nutrition, homeopathic medications, herbal and traditional Chinese medicines, energy therapies, emotional based therapies, and body and mind-based therapies like acupuncture and acupressure, yoga and massage, and meditation and other relaxation techniques.
Paying for Treatment
Mesothelioma treatments are not typically cheap. Surgeries can cost thousands of dollars. The average cost of cancer for lung surgery, which is similar to mesothelioma surgery, is nearly $40,000. Chemotherapy is a type of treatment that takes weeks to administer, which can mean costs of $30,000 or more for a full course. Typical costs for radiation therapy are around $2,000 per month. To enjoy the benefits of alternative therapies also cost extra.
Patients who do not have health insurance, or whose insurance will not pay for the costs of specific mesothelioma treatments or medical equipment, may find themselves facing serious financial considerations. The cost of treating mesothelioma is very high, and that does not begin to address the additional financial burdens of traveling for treatment or the loss of wages due to illness.
Some patients may turn to debt to find the money needed for treatment and simply daily expenses of living. This is a dangerous road to go down as it can put you in a big hole that is impossible to climb out of later. There are other options that include financial assistance from the appropriate group.
For those who are in need of financial assistance, there are a variety of different organizations that offer help, and mesothelioma facilities often offer a variety of types of aid for those who cannot afford to travel for their care. Veterans of the U.S. military may be eligible for special benefits, and some clinical trials and grants may also be available.
Mesothelioma Treatment Facilities
When you have been diagnosed with mesothelioma it is important that you seek care at a facility that is equipped to treat your disease. Specialized mesothelioma treatment centers have the staff, the equipment, the knowledge and the experience that allows them to best attend to your needs. Though access to these facilities depends upon where you are located in the country, there are a number of renowned facilities throughout America, particularly in the major metropolitan areas.
Treatment decisions are never easy, but when you have all the information you can make the choices that are best for you and your family. Let the experts guide you, let your loved ones support you, and get all the information you need so that you can get the treatment that will make your life better and more comfortable as you live with mesothelioma.
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