Coping With Mesothelioma Relapse in Veterans

3 Min Read

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Veterans with mesothelioma in remission are at risk of recurrence, but few are prepared for the emotional impact of their cancer returning. Mesothelioma relapses can be devastating for anyone. But mesothelioma coming back is particularly challenging for veterans who are already coping with psychological distress from their military careers.

Fortunately, veterans have access to support systems and resources that can help them move forward if a mesothelioma relapse occurs.

Managing Mesothelioma Relapse

A mesothelioma relapse, known medically as “recurrence,” occurs when a patient is re-diagnosed with mesothelioma after all visible forms of the disease were removed. Any cancer can recur, and mesothelioma recurrence is unfortunately common.

Mesothelioma is an incredibly challenging disease to defeat because of its aggressive nature, resilient cancer cells, and proximity to critical organs. Even when surgeons remove all visible signs of the tumor, it’s possible for microscopic cells to get left behind and start new tumors.

Non-surgical therapies, such as chemotherapy and radiation, attempt to destroy any remaining cells, but aren’t always successful. If a single mesothelioma cell is left behind, nearby organs can become reinfected over time.

If you’re a veteran who has been recently diagnosed with mesothelioma recurrence, here are some ways you can cope with the news that your mesothelioma has come back.

1. Stay Informed About Your Diagnosis

Veterans with mesothelioma can feel empowered when they understand why their cancer has returned. Researching cancer recurrence, talking with doctors, and staying informed can help veterans cope with their situation. Veterans who understand the medical reason their mesothelioma returning often find it easier to move towards the next steps.

2. Pursue New Treatment Options

The multimodal approach of surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation is the standard treatment plan the first time mesothelioma is treated. However, treatment for recurring mesothelioma tends to shift towards disease management. Doctors and surgeons may try new strategies that will attempt to slow the disease’s growth and manage any pain.

Palliative surgeries may be performed to relieve pressure in the lungs or abdomen, or radiation may be used to slow the spread of new cancer cells. Veterans should talk to their doctor about their objectives for treatment and ensure the plan aligns with their wishes.

Many factors must be considered when determining treatment options for recurrent mesothelioma, including:

  • Location and severity of the recurrence
  • Previous treatment strategies
  • Current health
  • Side effects
  • Quality of life
  • Personal goals

3. Ask About Clinical Trials

Clinical trials aren’t for everyone, but they can be a great opportunity for some patients. Many veterans with recurring mesothelioma find themselves willing to try innovative or emerging therapies for a variety of reasons. Clinical trials are incredibly diverse, each with their own objectives and anticipated benefits.

Some veterans join clinical trials in hopes of finding a cure for themselves, while others want to have a tangible role in the modern fight against cancer.

Mesothelioma patients who are interested in clinical trials should talk to their doctor to determine whether they are a good match for any existing trials.

4. Get a Second Opinion

Mesothelioma is a complex disease that takes years of study to understand fully. Veterans who have recurring mesothelioma should seek a second opinion from a mesothelioma specialist who can advise them of other treatment options.

Some specialists are more familiar with mesothelioma relapse than others, and veterans deserve the best care possible after a difficult diagnosis. Veterans should try to find a mesothelioma expert who specializes in the type and stage of mesothelioma that matches their re-diagnosis.

5. Focus on Quality of Life

If you’ve found out your mesothelioma has relapsed, it can feel like you’re receiving your diagnosis all over again. As a result, recurrence can be equally or more challenging to experience than the initial diagnosis. Patients can remind themselves of the difficulties they’ve overcome, the personal growth they’ve experienced, and the knowledge they’ve gained.

Some patients with mesothelioma live for many years and can find enjoyment in their life. Veterans should remain focused on their quality of life and consider their happiness when determining treatment.

While aggressive treatments are right for some veterans, steady disease management is a better approach for others. How to best move forward is a personal choice that veterans should make for themselves.

Support and Compensation for Veterans With Mesothelioma Relapse

Veterans diagnosed with mesothelioma due to asbestos exposure during their military service experience unique challenges that civilian patients don’t endure. Therefore, veterans require specialized cancer care delivered by highly experienced doctors who understand their disease and the struggles veterans face.

Contact Mesothelioma Veterans Center for support in getting connected with top doctors. We can also help with filing for VA benefits and other forms of compensation so you can get access to top treatments.

Veterans Support Team
Christopher Dryfoos PhotoWritten by:

Contributing Author

Christopher Dryfoos is a journalist and member of the American Medical Writers Association (AMWA). As the grandson of the U.S. Navy’s first forensic pathologist, he aims to help veterans with mesothelioma access needed care.

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  4. National Cancer Institute, “When Cancer Returns,” Retrieved from Accessed on May 6, 2019.