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Chemotherapy

The treatment of mesothelioma will depend on a number of things including the type of mesothelioma, how advanced the disease is, the general health and fitness of the patient and their personal preferences.

There are various treatments that may be recommended for mesothelioma. These include active symptom control, radiotherapy, chemotherapy and surgery. A patient may have just one of these types of treatments or a combination of them.

Chemotherapy can be used to treat mesothelioma. Chemotherapy is the use of anti-cancer (cytotoxic) drugs to destroy cancer cells. They work by disrupting the growth of the cancer cells.

Chemotherapy is used in an attempt to shrink the disease and relieve some of the symptoms it is causing. This may improve quality of life. It is possible it may also help people with mesothelioma to live a little longer, chemotherapy cannot cure mesothelioma.

Chemotherapy may also be given before or after major surgery for mesothelioma to prevent or delay the recurrence of the cancer cells. This is called adjuvant treatment.

The chemotherapy drugs that may be used for the treatment of mesothelioma include Cisplatinum (Platinol), Carboplatin (Paraplatin), Gemcitabine (Gemzar), Pemetrexed (Alimta) and Vinorelbine (Navelbine).

Macmillan Cancer Support's website contains information about individual chemotherapy drugs including how each drug is given and possible side effects that may be experienced with each drug

In mesothelioma there is, as yet, no agreement among experts as to when, if at all, during the course of the illness, to use chemotherapy. It is also unknown which is the best drug or the best combination of drugs to treat this disease.

Chemotherapy - How is it Given?

Nurse administering chemotherapy to patient

Chemotherapy drugs are carried in the bloodstream to the cancer cells and it can be given in a number of ways. These include:-

By injection into a vein or through a drip 
A fine needle called a cannula will be inserted into a vein, usually in the back of the hand. This procedure is no more painful than any other injection or blood test.

By infusion pump 
These are used to give a controlled amount of drug/s into the bloodstream over a number of hours or days. The pumps are compact and can be carried in a bag or on a belt.

By mouth 
Some chemotherapy drugs are given as a tablet, capsule or liquid.

Chemotherapy Treatment Sessions

Before you begin your chemotherapy treatment a nurse will explain what is involved and answer any questions you may have before treatment.

  • You can eat and drink normally on the day of your treatment. However, it is advisable not to have a heavy meal prior to your chemotherapy session.  
  • Small amounts of alcohol are safe but it is advised that alcohol is avoided for 48 hours after treatment.  
  • Chemotherapy may be given on a hospital Day Ward (where you visit hospital for a few hours for your treatment) or as an inpatient. Your doctor or nurse will discuss this with you.

Chemotherapy Side Effects

Chemotherapy drugs act on the cancer cells in the body but they also temporarily reduce the number of some of the normal cells in the blood. When the numbers of normal blood cells are lowered you are more at risk of developing infections and may tire easily.

The side effects of chemotherapy drugs differ from drug to drug. Possible side effects include feeling sick, being sick, loss of appetite, loss or thinning of hair, constipation and diarrhoea, sore mouth and fatigue. Before treatment starts, your doctor or nurse will explain the side effects and offer advice about managing these.

As the side effects of chemotherapy can be significant, the benefits of having chemotherapy need to be carefully weighed up against the side effects that may be experienced. Patients are advised to discuss with their oncologist (cancer doctor) about chemotherapy in their individual situation.

Most chemotherapy is given as an outpatient meaning that patients only attend for all or part of a day to have the treatment administered, in addition to this there will be hospital visits at regular intervals to see the oncologist to discuss how treatment is progressing as well as scans to determine whether or not the chemotherapy is helping to control the disease.  It is likely that treatment will be given over a few months.