Chemotherapy for mesothelioma treatment is the use of anti-cancer medication to break down cancerous tumors, ease symptoms, and help patients live longer. Mesothelioma patients who receive just chemotherapy can expect to live 12 months on average after diagnosis. When chemotherapy is combined with surgery and/or radiation therapy, however, patients may live for years or even decades. Chemotherapy side effects vary from patient to patient.
Chemotherapy for Mesothelioma
If you or a loved one has mesothelioma, chemotherapy will likely be a part of the treatment. Chemotherapy is often the first treatment oncologists (cancer doctors) prescribe to mesothelioma patients.
Various types of mesothelioma chemotherapy can add between three months and three years to your lifespan. Your individual diagnosis and overall health are the most important factors that affect the kind of chemotherapy treatment you receive.
Mesothelioma doctors often prescribe two chemotherapy drugs together, with the most common combination being pemetrexed (also referred to by its brand name Alimta) and cisplatin. There are several other chemotherapy drugs that doctors can also use if pemetrexed and cisplatin are ineffective.
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When Is Chemotherapy Used?
- With Surgery: Some cancer patients are given mesothelioma chemotherapy to shrink tumors prior to surgery. This helps surgeons remove more of the cancer. Your cancer care provider may also prescribe chemotherapy after surgery to kill microscopic mesothelioma cells that may remain.
- In Late-Stage Cancer Patients: Patients diagnosed with stage 3 or 4 mesothelioma may not be eligible for surgery. In this case, chemotherapy is often the best treatment available to improve quality of life. If your doctor says surgery isn’t right for you, you can always seek a second opinion.
- If Other Treatments Don’t Work: Some mesothelioma patients don’t respond well to certain types of treatment. It could be radiation or a certain chemotherapy drug. In these cases, doctors may use second-line chemotherapy drugs, which are alternatives to commonly used treatments that may be more helpful.
Administering Mesothelioma Chemotherapy
Mesothelioma chemotherapy can be delivered in one of two ways.
Systemic chemotherapy is given intravenously. This allows the drugs to enter the patient’s bloodstream directly.
As the chemotherapy travels through the bloodstream, it kills mesothelioma cells wherever they are encountered. Systemic chemotherapy is the most common method used for mesothelioma patients.
Intracavitary chemotherapy is when doctors deliver the drugs directly to the affected area.
Doctors first place a tube inside the chest or abdominal wall. The doctor then delivers a high concentration of chemotherapy right to the mesothelioma tumors. This often has a stronger effect than systemic chemotherapy.
In malignant pleural mesothelioma, this is called intrapleural chemotherapy. In peritoneal mesothelioma, it’s called intraperitoneal chemotherapy.
Patients can receive mesothelioma chemotherapy in a cancer center, at an outpatient clinic, or sometimes in the home.
Mesothelioma Chemotherapy Cycles
Chemotherapy is administered in cycles. The cycles can be weekly, biweekly, or every three weeks. Patients receiving pemetrexed and cisplatin typically receive chemotherapy every three weeks. At each cycle, a nurse injects chemotherapy drugs into the vein.
The number of cycles of chemotherapy depends on the patient. If you are not tolerating mesothelioma chemotherapy well, your doctor is unlikely to continue further cycles.
The length of time for one cycle of chemotherapy depends on the type of drug.
Patients receiving cisplatin need lots of saline to hydrate the body and prevent kidney damage. Doctors accomplish this by administering the drug slowly over the course of several hours. On the other hand, it only takes about 15 minutes to receive a course of pemetrexed.