How is malignant mesothelioma treated?
Making treatment decisions
After the cancer is found and staged, your cancer care team will discuss your treatment options with you. The main factors in selecting treatment for mesotheliomas are the location and extent of the tumor, whether it has spread to lymph nodes or other organs, and your health and personal preferences. Based on these factors, your treatment options may include:
More than one of these treatments may be used in many cases. To learn about the most common approaches to treating mesothelioma, see “Treatment of mesothelioma based on the extent of the cancer.”
Mesothelioma can be hard to treat because it typically does not grow as a single tumor mass. It tends to spread along nearby surfaces, nerves, and blood vessels. This often makes it very hard to get rid of the cancer completely with surgery and/or radiation. For some people, palliative procedures might be used to help treat some symptoms of mesothelioma.
Because mesothelioma is a rare cancer, it has been hard for doctors to compare the value of different treatments. Only a few large clinical trials of treatments for mesothelioma have been done. In addition, many doctors have very little experience treating this disease. They usually refer patients to specialists who treat large numbers of mesothelioma patients at major medical centers.
You might have different types of doctors on your treatment team, depending on the stage of your cancer and your treatment options. These doctors may include:
- A thoracic surgeon: a doctor who treats diseases of the lungs and chest with surgery
- A surgical oncologist: a doctor who treats cancer with surgery
- A radiation oncologist: a doctor who treats cancer with radiation therapy.
- A medical oncologist: a doctor who treats cancer with medicines such as chemotherapy
- A pulmonologist: a doctor who specializes in medical treatment of diseases of the lungs
Many other specialists might be part of your treatment team as well, including other doctors, physician assistants (PAs), nurse practitioners (NPs), nurses, respiratory therapists, social workers, and other health professionals. See Health Professionals Associated With Cancer Care for more on this.
Before deciding on a treatment plan, it’s very important to have an idea of its likely benefits and possible risks. You will probably have many questions about the treatment options suggested. You can also find some other questions to ask in the section “What should you ask your doctor about malignant mesothelioma?”
Mesotheliomas are rare, so if time allows it’s often a good idea to get a second opinion from a doctor who has a lot of experience in treating people with these cancers. A second opinion can give you more information and help you feel more confident about the treatment plan you choose.
Thinking about taking part in a clinical trial
Clinical trials are carefully controlled research studies that are done to get a closer look at promising new treatments or procedures. Clinical trials are one way to get state-of-the art cancer treatment. In some cases, they may be the only way to get access to newer treatments. They are also the best way for doctors to learn better methods to treat cancer. Still, they are not right for everyone.
If you would like to learn more about clinical trials that might be right for you, start by asking your doctor if your clinic or hospital conducts clinical trials. You can also call our clinical trials matching service at 1-800-303-5691 for a list of studies that meet your medical needs, or see the Clinical Trials section on our website to learn more.
Considering complementary and alternative methods
You may hear about alternative or complementary methods that your doctor hasn’t mentioned to treat your cancer or relieve symptoms. These methods can include vitamins, herbs, and special diets, or other methods such as acupuncture or massage, to name a few.
Complementary methods refer to treatments that are used along with your regular medical care. Alternative treatments are used instead of a doctor’s medical treatment. Although some of these methods might be helpful in relieving symptoms or helping you feel better, many have not been proven to work. Some might even be dangerous.
Be sure to talk to your cancer care team about any method you are thinking about using. They can help you learn what is known (or not known) about the method, which can help you make an informed decision. See the Complementary and Alternative Medicine section of our website to learn more.
Help getting through cancer treatment
Your cancer care team will be your first source of information and support, but there are other resources for help when you need it. Hospital- or clinic-based support services are an important part of your care. These might include nursing or social work services, financial aid, nutritional advice, rehab, or spiritual help.
The American Cancer Society also has programs and services – including rides to treatment, lodging, support groups, and more – to help you get through treatment. Call our National Cancer Information Center at 1-800-227-2345 and speak with one of our trained specialists on call 24 hours a day, every day.
Last Medical Review: 05/18/2015
Last Revised: 02/17/2016