Malignant Mesothelioma

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Treating Malignant Mesothelioma TOPICS

How is malignant mesothelioma treated?

This information represents the views of the doctors and nurses serving on the American Cancer Society’s Cancer Information Database Editorial Board. These views are based on their interpretation of studies published in medical journals, as well as their own professional experience.
The treatment information in this document is not official policy of the Society and is not intended as medical advice to replace the expertise and judgment of your cancer care team. It is intended to help you and your family make informed decisions, together with your doctor.
Your doctor may have reasons for suggesting a treatment plan different from these general treatment options. Don’t hesitate to ask him or her questions about your treatment options. If you have mesothelioma, your cancer care team will recommend one or more treatment options for you to consider. This is an important decision and you should take time to think about all of your choices.

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.

Last Medical Review: 05/18/2015
Last Revised: 05/18/2015