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Mesothelioma and other asbestos-related diseases do present a grim outlook for many patients. Unfortunately, this is largely due to the fact that symptoms often do not manifest themselves until the cancer has progressed. Over the last 30 – 40 years, asbestos victims stepped forward and took a strong stand against the asbestos industry. Over decades, their cases and their activism raised public awareness about mesothelioma and focused attention on medical treatment. The last 10 – 15 years have seen real advances in the medical treatment of all malignant mesothelioma cancers. Below are a few of the ways that mesothelioma is treated.
First, the Diagnosis
The first step towards treating mesothelioma is diagnosis. If you believe you have been exposed to airborne asbestos fibers in a meaningful way, it is worth having a conversation about it with your doctor. A doctor can send you for a chest X-Ray that will be covered by health insurance. If you exhibit any of the signs of mesothelioma, it is even more urgent that you speak with a medical professional about an examination. Though CT scans, echocardiograms, and X-rays can provide a look into your body, the only sure way of diagnosing cancers like mesothelioma is through a surgically obtained tissue biopsy.
Chemotherapy cannot cure mesothelioma, but it can alleviate cancer symptoms and increase life expectancy, especially when combined with surgery and radiation. Chemotherapy for mesothelioma involves using the drugs Cisplatin and Pemetrexed (Alimta) to kill cancer cells, effectively shrinking tumors, and limiting or even preventing new tumor growth.
There are several surgical options for treating mesothelioma, especially the pleural variety which impacts the lungs, specifically the lining around the lungs. Cytoreductive surgery involves surgically removing tumorous growths around the lungs. An extrapleural pneumonectomy (commonly referred to as an “EPP”)involves removing the entire lung and its surrounding lining. Pneumonectomy involves removing one lung with tumors to prevent spread of the cancer to the other lung. In recent years, the EPP has fallen out of favor with most treating doctors. These days, most thoracic surgeons are performing more Pleurectomy with Decortication procedures. The pleurectomy involves removing the lining of the lung and scraping tumors off the surface of the lung itself. Robotic surgeries may become increasingly popular in the future, with the hope of offering a less invasive procedure for the patient, but with more control and precision for the surgeon.
For peritoneal mesothelioma, the Hyperthermic Intraperitoneal Chemotherapy procedure (this is commonly referred to as a “HIPEC”) has become the best option for patients who are considered candidates. Despite numerous recent advances in chemotherapy, the overall chance of chemotherapy being curative is still low, and the side effects are difficult for the patient to endure. However, when these cancers are confined to the peritoneal cavity,HIPEC may be the best option. Before HIPEC is administered, the surgeon will remove all visible tumors that can be removed throughout the peritoneal cavity. This is known as cytoreductive surgery. Following cytoreductive surgery, in the operative setting, the surgeon will administer the HIPEC treatment. The surgeon uses a heated solution containing chemotherapy and pools it directly in the abdominal area where the tumors were removed – for as long as two hours. This procedure has – in some cases – proven successful at extending the lives of peritoneal mesothelioma patients for a period of years.
Radiation involves projecting high energy rays at a patient in an attempt to weaken the DNA of cancer cells, which in turn leads to their demise and eliminates tumors. As far as mesothelioma, radiation is most commonly used to treat sarcomatoid mesothelioma, however, it is used sparingly in the treatment of epithelioid and other types of mesothelioma. In addition to this external radiation, there is an internal form of radiation, which involves implanting radioactive material inside tumors to kill them. Unfortunately, radiation does have some negative side effects such as fatigue, hair loss, pain, and other health issues such as tissue scarring.
Palliative care involves making life more comfortable for those suffering from mesothelioma. One of the more popular examples of palliative care is the procedure of draining excess fluid from the lining of the lungs. This procedure is called thoracentesis, and it can relieve patients of painful pressure on their lungs, heart, and spine. Another form of this draining procedure involves providing the patient with a silicone catheter to perform routine drainings at home.
Most mesothelioma treatment plans will involve some combination of all four of the strategies listed above. The expense of these strategies can add up because they require the care of top doctors at top cancer centers, which may also necessitate travel. Additionally, traditional medicare may not cover hospice or in home treatment. If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with mesothelioma, or lung cancer, call The Meso Law Firm today for a free legal consultation about some of the litigation, settlement, and trust compensation options that are available to those patients suffering from mesothelioma or other asbestos-related medical conditions.