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Unresectable Mesothelioma: What it Means

Malignant mesothelioma is a highly uncommon yet fast-spreading form of cancer, typically associated with long-term exposure to fibrous carcinogens such as asbestos. Mesothelioma is most often diagnosed in populations whose careers took them into constant close exposure with asbestos, such as construction workers, HVAC professionals, and factory workers whose plants were involved in the manufacture of asbestos-containing items (such as vinyl flooring or auto parts). Due to the unusually-long latency period that mesothelioma has (the time from first carcinogen exposure to actual diagnosis), many people being diagnosed with mesothelioma have not had any asbestos exposure in decades—and the diagnosis comes unexpected in the midst of their retirement years.

If you or someone you know have been diagnosed with an unresectable mesothelioma tumor, you may have some questions, as well as some deep concerns. The word itself sounds dire, and indeed having an unresectable tumor is a serious situation and not to be taken lightly. However, unresectable mesothelioma tumors are not an automatic death sentence. Here is what you should know:

What does “unresectable” mean?

The word “unresectable” indicates that a tumor cannot be fully removed from the body by means of surgery alone, and that other treatment methodologies will be necessary in order for the tumor to be effectively treated.

Unresectable does not mean untreatable

Although learning that you have an unresectable mesothelioma tumor is alarming, it does not mean that your tumor is untreatable. It simply means that your tumor cannot be treated by surgical excision alone. There are still several alternatives for treatment which can be put into action by you and your oncologist to fight the malignant mesothelioma in your body.

Unresectable does not mean incurable

While most unresectable mesothelioma tumors are at an advanced stage of the disease, it is not impossible to use curative treatments in the hope of beating back the cancer cells and extending life expectancy (as well as increasing quality of life) for the person with cancer. Although there is no cure for unresectable mesothelioma, new treatments are constantly being explored and showing promise in the battle against advanced-stage mesothelioma.

What are my options if my tumor is deemed unresectable?

Even if your tumor cannot be removed by surgery alone, there are treatment options available, both curative and palliative, for people with unresectable mesothelioma cancer.


Chemotherapy is an option for people whose tumors are unresectable. What a surgeon cannot remove, chemotherapy drugs may be able to treat. For example, chemo drugs such as pemetrexed, can slow the growth and spread of the cancer, thus preventing metastasis and keeping the progression of the cancer at bay. Chemotherapy is often the first line of treatment for unresectable malignant mesothelioma tumors.

Targeted therapy

Targeted therapies work by attacking the cancer cells specifically, leaving the healthy tissues surrounding the tumors relatively unharmed (as compared with traditional modes of chemotherapy or radiation therapy, which can have harmful effects on normal tissue). This form of treatment carries lower incidence of serious side effects due to its healthy-tissue-sparing nature, and shows great promise in treating parts of the tumor that cannot be reached by a surgeon’s scalpel.

Palliative treatments

Palliative treatments are those treatments focused on providing comfort to the person suffering with cancer. Rather than aiming to cure the cancer, palliative measures aim to increase the quality of life that a person with cancer has by alleviating pain and discomfort caused by the cancer. Such treatments may include use of pain-killing medications or draining of fluid from the lungs or abdominal cavity to relieve pressure. For people whose cancer is incurable, palliative treatments ensure that a higher level of quality of life can be experienced even in the presence of aggressive cancer. Such treatments are often combined with curative treatment methodologies to reduce suffering during treatment.

Clinical trials

Clinical trials are often being conducted in an effort to discover new treatments that may prove effective in the battle against mesothelioma cancer. Each clinical trial has a specific focus, and many of them aim to study and treat people with unresectable, advanced-stage mesothelioma tumors. To find out if clinical trial participation is an option for you, discuss your interest at your next appointment with your oncologist. He or she should be able to point you in the right direction so that you can find the resources you need to become a clinical trial participant.

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