Mesothelioma is a cancer caused by exposure to asbestos or asbestos-containing products. It can take decades to develop, and because symptoms often do not manifest until the latter stages of the disease, diagnosis and treatment are often delayed. Unfortunately, there is presently no cure for mesothelioma. However, treatment can extend the length and quality of a person’s life. The earlier treatment is begun, the more effective it usually is at slowing the disease’s progression.
Surgery is often used either to remove as much of the malignant tumor as possible, or to provide relief from the symptoms of mesothelioma. Surgery can be extremely risky in some cases, but it is often the only solution available to a patient to relieve pain or prolong life.
The most extensive form of surgery for mesothelioma is called extrapleural pneumonectomy. It involves the removal of the pleura, the diaphragm, the pericardium (the protective lining around the heart), and the lung. The surgery is very complex and can only be performed on certain patients. It is an invasive surgical procedure, and is usually performed in the early stages of mesothelioma, before the tumor has spread to the lymph nodes. The goal is to remove as many cancer cells as possible.
A pleurectomy removes the pleural lining of a patient diagnosed with mesothelioma. Pleurectomy is performed to relieve pain and breathing difficulties, and to remove localized disease. A pleurectomy will not cure mesothelioma, but it can help control the disease and prolong life.
There are many different types of radiation therapy that are effective for the treatment of mesothelioma cancer. Radiation therapy must be delivered carefully in order to avoid damaging the lungs, heart, and other nearby organs. The radiation therapy options used to treat mesothelioma include:
- External beam radiation therapy uses an external beam of high-energy X-rays, usually from a linear accelerator or cobalt machine, to target a tumor and destroy cancer cells. Used carefully, external beam radiation therapy spares the normal tissue that surrounds the tumor.
- Brachytherapy is an advanced form of treatment that uses radioactive “seeds” to attack cancerous tissue. The seeds are placed within or near a tumor and positioned for the most effective treatment of cancer cells so exposure of healthy tissue to radiation is reduced.
- Adjuvant radiation therapy describes the use of radiation therapy or chemotherapy after surgery to destroy cancer cells that the surgeon was unable to remove.
- Palliative radiation therapy involves the use of large doses of radiation, often in conjunction with pain and other medication, to relieve the symptoms of mesothelioma. It is intended to provide the patient some degree of comfort rather than increase survival time.
Chemotherapy is a widely used cancer treatment that works by killing cancer cells as they grow. Chemotherapy usually consists of a combination of cancer-fighting drugs given by injection (although in some cases they may also be given orally). Chemotherapy affects cells throughout the body, including normal cells that grow rapidly such as those found in the mouth, bone marrow, hair follicles, and reproductive organs. Side effects may include nausea, hair loss, bruising, fatigue, and lowered immune system function.
Radiation therapy and chemotherapy treatments can be as debilitating as mesothelioma itself, preventing a previously productive worker from earning a living. The treatments can also strain the financial limits of most insurance policies. If the patient has no insurance, he or she faces a huge financial burden that will undoubtedly affect family members and others who are financially dependent.
ALIMTA®, developed by Eli Lilly, is the first and only chemotherapy drug to receive Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval for the treatment of pleural mesothelioma in patients for whom surgery is not an option. ALIMTA® is given in cycles along with cisplatin, another chemotherapy drug, to kill cancerous cells in the linings of the lungs. In clinical trials, patients who were administered both ALIMTA® and cisplatin survived longer than patients who were treated with only cisplatin.
Like ALIMTA, thalidomide is a chemotherapy drug used to treat mesothelioma in patients who, for whatever reason, are not candidates for surgery or radiation therapy. When used in conjunction with cisplatin, thalidomide has been shown to stall the growth of cancerous cells in the pleura (protective lung linings) and prevent the spread of the disease. Thalidomide is currently being tested in clinical trials in Australia and other locations but may be widely available if approved.
Thoracentesis is a procedure in which fluid is drained through a needle or tube from the space between the lining of the lungs (pleura) and the chest wall. This treatment alleviates many of the symptoms and much of the discomfort of mesothelioma, but its effects are often short-lived – in many cases, the procedure has to be repeated. For some patients, thoracentesis is used as a diagnostic test, measuring the amount of fluid in the chest and the advancement of the disease.
The purpose of palliative care is to relieve pain and other symptoms of mesothlioma, rather than prolong life. Palliative care addresses ways to improve the quality of life for patients undergoing life-prolonging treatments and patients who are dying. Palliative care treats symptoms and seeks to restore function. Pain management is generally a primary focus of palliative care. Other treatment methods are used to relieve shortness of breath, fatigue, dry mouth, and loss of appetite. Palliative care also focuses on controlling the anxiety and depression that accompany a life-threatening illness.
New and Experimental Mesothelioma Treatments
There are many new and exciting treatment options available for those suffering from mesothelioma. Some patients may choose to participate in clinical trials of experimental medications or techniques to improve their symptoms. Whether or not a new type of treatment is right for you is something you and your doctor will need to decide.
Still in its experimental stages, gene therapy is being explored as a potential treatment for mesothelioma. During gene therapy, formulated gene material is injected into the cancerous cells and tumors, essentially killing them. Medical experts and researchers, such as those at the University of Pennsylvania, believe that gene therapy can be safely used in conjunction with other mesothelioma treatments, namely surgery, and are optimistic about its effectiveness. Consult your doctor to learn more about gene therapy.
TomoTherapy HI-ART System®
TomoTherapy Highly Integrated Adaptive Radiotherapy (HI-ART) System® is an advanced radiation method used to target mesothelioma tumors. An onboard CT scanner provides highly accurate targeting of the shape and position of the tumor so that small, powerful radiation beams can be focused to precisely attack the tumor. The accuracy of the TomoTherapy HI-ART System® limits the exposure of healthy tissue to radiation and allows for effective treatment of hard-to-reach tumors.
Immunotherapy uses chemical and pharmaceutical agents to shut down production of the chemicals a tumor produces to promote its growth. The substances most often used in mesothelioma immunotherapy include interleukin-2 and different types of interferon. Immunotherapy has shown promise in laboratory studies, but more studies will need to be performed to prove its efficacy in treating mesothelioma.
Heat therapy, or hyperthermic chemotherapy, involves the heating of chemotherapy agents to improve their effectiveness. Heating the chemicals increases the susceptibility of the mesothelioma cancer cells to the drugs’ toxic effects. Chemicals such as cisplatin or doxorubicin are heated to as high as 109 degrees Fahrenheit and injected.
In photodynamic therapy for mesothelioma, light-sensitive molecules are injected into the pleural space, where they are absorbed by mesothelioma cancer cells. Then the tumors are targeted with intense light beams, which kill the tumor cells that have taken up the light-sensitive molecules. Photodynamic therapy has shown some promise in patients with small malignant mesothelioma tumors.
Shein Law, with offices in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and Pennsauken, New Jersey, successfully represents mesothelioma victims. An expert lawyer from our firm will provide you with an evaluation of your case and advise you on seeking compensation. Contact the Shein Law online or call 1-877-SHEINLAW (743-4652) today to speak with a mesothelioma lawyer and see if you are entitled to compensation for the physical, emotional, and financial impact of your or a loved one’s mesothelioma diagnosis.
Hospitals and Medical Centers for Mesothelioma Treatment in Pennsylvania and New Jersey
The following hospitals and medical centers in Pennsylvania and New Jersey have experience in diagnosing, treating, and caring for people with mesothelioma, lung cancer, and other asbestos-related diseases.
At the Shein Law offices in Pennsylvania and New Jersey you can speak with a mesothelioma lawyer to get names, addresses, and telephone numbers of hospitals and medical centers in other regions with experience in treating individuals with mesothelioma.
Crozer-Chester Medical Center
One Medical Center Boulevard
Upland, Pennsylvania 19013
Fox Chase Cancer Center
7701 Burholme Avenue
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19111
Frankford Hospital – Torresdale Division
Red Lion and Knights Road
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19114
Hershey Medical Center/Penn State
Geisinger Health Systems
500 University Drive
Hershey, Pennsylvania 17033
Lehigh Valley Hospital
1200 South Cedar Crest Boulevard
Allentown, Pennsylvania 18103
Thomas Jefferson University Hospital
111 South 11th Street
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19107
University of Pennsylvania Medical Center
3400 Spruce Street
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19104
University of Pennsylvania Medical Center
51 N. 39th Street
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19104
Joseph Friedberg, M.D.
Chief, Division of Thoracic Surgery
Cooper Health Systems
One Cooper Plaza
Camden, New Jersey 08103
Deborah Heart and Lung Center
200 Trenton Road
Browns Mills, New Jersey 08015
Kennedy Memorial Hospital – Cherry Hill Division
2201 Chapel Avenue West
Cherry Hill, New Jersey 08002
Kennedy Memorial Hospital – Stratford Division
18 West Laurel Road
Stratford, New Jersey 08084
Our Lady of Lourdes Medical Center
1600 Haddon Avenue
Camden, New Jersey 08103
Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital
1 Robert Wood Johnson Plaza
New Brunswick, New Jersey 08901
Underwood Memorial Hospital
509 North Broad Street
P.O. Box 349
Woodbury, New Jersey 08096
Virtua – West Jersey Hospital Marlton
Rte. 73 & Brick Road
Marlton, New Jersey 08053
Virtua – West Jersey Hospital Voorhees
101 Carnie Blvd.
Voorhees, New Jersey 08043