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, immunotherapy, targeted therapy and surgery. A patient may have just one of these types of treatments or a combination of them. The treatment may also be given as part of a clinical trial.
What is it?
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.
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.
What does it do?
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 however 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.
In mesothelioma there is, as yet, no agreement among experts as to when, during the course of the illness, to use chemotherapy. It is acceptable to have chemotherapy very quickly after diagnosis or to monitor and delay treatment until the disease starts to grow.
How is it given?
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.
What to expect when having chemotherapy.
Before you begin your chemotherapy treatment a member of your health care team 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.
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. Your doctor or nurse will discuss this with you.
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.
If you would like to speak to a mesothelioma clinical nurse specialist about any of the information on this page please call our Freephone Information Line on 0800 169 2409 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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