Why Early Palliative Care May Not Be Effective for Mesothelioma Patients

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Palliative care is meant to relieve symptoms and improve quality of life for people suffering from life-threatening illness. However, recent research shows that early palliative care for mesothelioma may not be effective for controlling pain or mental health problems among patients.

A recent trial presented at the IASLC World Conference on Lung Cancer revealed that early palliative care does not significantly improve quality of life for people with pleural mesothelioma. In the trial, patients in palliative care reported similar quality of life to patients in standard care.

Since palliative care is often recommended to people with any stage of mesothelioma, this news is important for both patients and specialists. The results of this study suggest that the standard of care for mesothelioma may not yet meet the unique healthcare needs of people suffering from this illness.

What Is Palliative Care for Mesothelioma?

Palliative care is care provided to patients with life-threatening illness. This form of care involves an extensive team of doctors, nurses, social workers, physiotherapists and nutritionists. The focus is on keeping patients as comfortable as possible with medical, social and emotional support.

In palliative care, patients receive the end-of-life care they want. For example, many people wish to avoid aggressive treatments and remain at home instead of at the hospital.

Palliative care becomes necessary when patients stop responding to treatment—or when primary treatment methods, such as surgery, are no longer possible. Sadly, most mesothelioma patients receive their diagnosis after the disease has already spread through the body. Since treatment is challenging, doctors recommend palliative care to patients at any mesothelioma stage.

Palliative care for mesothelioma focuses on pain management. It’s meant to reduce treatment side effects, improve breathing, manage mental health problems and help patients maintain mobility. Since pleural mesothelioma attacks the lining of the lungs, pain can be tough to control.

Being referred to palliative care does not mean that doctors are giving up. Specialized palliative care often involves the use of life-prolonging treatments and continued attempts to slow disease growth.

Research Shows Early Palliative Care Does Not Improve Quality of Life

Mesothelioma specialists often recommend palliative care to any mesothelioma patient. However, the results of a recent study suggest that this may not be beneficial.

In the trial, researchers evaluated 174 patients with mesothelioma who were randomly assigned to standard care or specialist palliative care. Researchers assessed the patients' quality of life, as well as their depression and anxiety levels, throughout the study.

Before the trial began, 77% of patients had trouble breathing and over 50% had chest pain.

At 12 weeks, quality-of-life scores were very similar in both groups. After the 24-week trial, researchers reported no significant difference in the quality of life between the standard care group and the palliative care group. Both groups also had similar anxiety and depression scores during the study.

Evolving Standard of Care for Mesothelioma Patients

This research gives us insight into the standard of care for mesothelioma patients. Unfortunately, mesothelioma patients often struggle with low quality of life, especially during the final stages of their disease. Pain, for instance, continues to be a problem for these patients—even when using strong pain-relieving drugs, like Morphine and Oxycodone.

Findings like these help experts better understand the role of early palliative care for mesothelioma.

Mesothelioma patients face complicated health problems. Each case is unique. Specialists and doctors use research to make better decisions for their patients and recognize when palliative care is necessary, and when it may not be helpful.

With the help of further mesothelioma research, the medical community can find ways to reduce the burden of illness on patients and their loved ones. More holistic ways to deal with chronic pain and mental illness may have a significant impact on the lives of people touched by this disease.

If you've received a mesothelioma diagnosis, make sure you seek treatment immediately. You might be eligible for VA benefits if you were exposed to asbestos while serving in the military. Contact the Mesothelioma Veterans Center today to find out if you're eligible for compensation and benefits to help you get the treatment you need.

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.

  1. “Early palliative care does not show quality-of-life benefit for newly diagnosed mesothelioma” Healio. Retrieved from https://www.healio.com/hematology-oncology/lung-cancer/news/online/%7Bf0afaf6b-68ee-440c-b3bd-f312da08522d%7D/early-palliative-care-does-not-show-quality-of-life-benefit-for-newly-diagnosed-mesothelioma. Accessed on April 11, 2019.
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