How Is Mesothelioma Treated?
The two categories of mesothelioma treatment are curative and palliative treatment.
- Curative treatments help extend a patient’s life expectancy.
- Palliative treatments are mainly used to manage mesothelioma symptoms and reduce discomfort.
Primary Mesothelioma Treatment Options
There are specific treatment options for mesothelioma that doctors recommend to help patients live longer.
The main types of curative mesothelioma treatment are:
Mesothelioma specialists will often prescribe multimodal therapy (a combination of different types of mesothelioma treatment). These customized treatment plans are designed to help mesothelioma patients live as long as possible.
Find top specialists who can treat your mesothelioma right now. Use our Free Doctor Match to get started.
Factors Affecting Mesothelioma Treatment
Doctors will consider several factors when determining a patient’s mesothelioma prognosis and treatment plan.
Factors that may impact mesothelioma treatment include:
- Cancer stage at diagnosis
- Cell type
- If (and how fast) the cancer is spreading
- Overall health of the patient
- Type of mesothelioma (pleural, peritoneal, pericardial, or testicular)
Additionally, doctors may rule out certain mesothelioma cancer treatments based on a patient’s age, health, and/or ability to tolerate potential side effects.
In many cases, surgery is one of the best treatments for mesothelioma. Surgery can help stop cancer growth and extend a patient’s lifespan, particularly when the cancer is caught early.
Doctors have developed several mesothelioma surgeries to help patients. The main goal of mesothelioma surgery is to remove all visible tumors and, in some cases, surrounding tissues or infected organs.
Your specific treatment plan will depend on where your mesothelioma is located, its cell type, and its stage of progression.
Registered Nurse Amy Fair discusses standard mesothelioma treatments and how patients can pick the best option. Call (866) 608-8933 today to connect with Amy and get your medical questions answered. View Transcript.
Duration: 2 min 01 sec
What do I need to know about mesothelioma treatments?
It’s really important for your doctors, your oncologists, your surgeons to explain to you what stage you’re in – to explain to you what type of mesothelioma you have. You have to understand your disease, you have to understand the type of disease, and you have to understand the stage of the disease. Many people have to make decisions as far as quality and quantity of life.
What are my treatment options for mesothelioma?
The standard treatment options for mesothelioma is a surgical approach. In pleural mesothelioma, they will offer the patient a pleural decortication where they strip the lining of the lung. They may offer to the patient a pneumonectomy and that is removing the whole lung, not just the lining. They may offer radiation to shrink the tumor first. Also, radiation gives them palliative care if that tumor is pressing on vital organs or nerves and causing pain, they may want to go in and do radiation first to shrink that tumor. Then of course there is the chemotherapy approach, and again sometimes multiple modalities are used. Surgical approach, radiation, and chemotherapy. It is a clinical individual fit for that particular person.
How can I decide what treatment is best for me?
When deciding what treatment modality is best for you it’s important to communicate with your surgeon, to communicate with your oncologist. You need to get an understanding on their thoughts if you’re a candidate for chemotherapy. Are you a candidate to have surgery? Although all that is very important, the individual decision for what type of therapy lies within the mesothelioma patient.
Pleural Mesothelioma Surgery
Malignant pleural mesothelioma develops in the pleura (lining of the lungs). The type of pleural mesothelioma surgery your doctor recommends will depend on your diagnosis.
The two most common pleural mesothelioma surgeries are:
- Extrapleural pneumonectomy (EPP): Removes all visible tumors, the entire diseased lung, as well as portions of the parietal (outer) pleura, the diaphragm, and the pericardium (heart lining).
- Pleurectomy with decortication (P/D): Removes visible tumors, the diseased parietal pleura, the diaphragm, part of the pericardium, and some lung tissue if necessary. Neither lung is removed.
Studies show that patients who undergo either surgery have similar median survival times.
The median life expectancy of patients who receive an EPP is 35.6 months, while patients have a median life expectancy of about 34 months after undergoing a P/D.
A P/D allows patients to keep both lungs, providing them with a better quality of life after surgery. Further, P/D patients typically develop fewer complications than EPP patients.
The American Cancer Society (ACS) considers an EPP to be the more extensive procedure. However, some doctors argue that a P/D does not allow for as much of the cancer to be removed compared to an EPP.
Peritoneal Mesothelioma Surgery
Cytoreduction with hyperthermic intraperitoneal chemotherapy (HIPEC) is the gold standard in treating malignant peritoneal mesothelioma (which forms in the abdominal lining).
Cytoreduction with HIPEC combines surgery with heated chemotherapy in a two-part procedure:
- Cytoreductive surgery removes the peritoneum (lining of the abdominal cavity) and any tumors or diseased tissue nearby.
- Doctors then apply heated chemotherapy drugs into the abdomen for up to 90 minutes to kill cancer cells that were left behind.
The average life expectancy for peritoneal mesothelioma patientswho receive cytoreduction with HIPEC is 53 months. Some of those who received this treatment became mesothelioma survivors, living for decades after their diagnosis.
Read more about patients who have extended their life expectancy in our Free Survivors Guide — packed with 70+ pages of hope and encouragement to help you and your loved ones.
During chemotherapy, patients are given cancer-killing medications that shrink and slow the growth of tumors. Chemotherapy drugs are used to treat pleural, peritoneal, and sometimes pericardial mesothelioma (which affects the lining of the heart).
“Chemotherapy is the most common type of systemic therapy used for mesothelioma. It usually works by keeping the cancer cells from growing, dividing, and making more cells.”
– American Society of Clinical Oncology
Mesothelioma patients are usually given a combination of the chemotherapy drugs cisplatin and pemetrexed. Chemotherapy may be administered before (neoadjuvant), during, after (adjuvant), or in place of surgery.
Get your Free Mesothelioma Guide to learn more about chemotherapy and other leading treatments.
Mesothelioma Radiation Therapy
Mesothelioma radiation therapy uses electrons or proton beams to destroy cancer cells by damaging their DNA.
The two main types of mesothelioma radiation are:
- Brachytherapy: This internal radiation therapy works by inserting a radioactive device inside a patient’s tumor, allowing higher doses of radiation to target more specific places than EBRT.
- External beam radiation therapy (EBRT): This is the most common type of mesothelioma radiation and is administered through the skin from outside the body.
With radiation, the 2-year survival rate is 58% for pleural mesothelioma patients, according to a 2019 study by the European Society for Radiotherapy and Oncology.
Radiation can be used before, during, or after surgery or chemotherapy.
Clinical Trials and Emerging Treatments for Mesothelioma
Outside of standard treatments, researchers continue to study new and possibly more effective options for treating mesothelioma. Many new mesothelioma treatments are only available through clinical trials until they are approved for wider use.
Mesothelioma patients who are not responding to traditional treatments can ask their cancer care team if they can enroll in a clinical trial. Learn about newer mesothelioma treatments recently approved or currently being tested below.
Cryotherapy (also called cryosurgery) uses liquid nitrogen to freeze and destroy cancer cells. This minimally invasive surgery has been used to treat other types of cancer for decades and has shown some success as a mesothelioma treatment.
Dr. Robert Cameron has been instrumental in testing cryotherapy as an emerging treatment for mesothelioma at UCLA Medical Center.
Patients may undergo cryotherapy before a major surgery to shrink mesothelioma tumors and make them easier to remove. Cryotherapy can also be used to treat mesothelioma recurrences or control symptoms.
Gene therapy modifies the DNA of existing cells to fight cancer. This therapy inserts new genes into mesothelioma cells so the body can destroy cancer cells.
In 2022, a team of doctors in Japan created inhalable versions of two gene therapy drugs for non-small cell lung cancer and pleural mesothelioma. Their study found that inhaling the drugs — similar to using an asthma inhaler — delivers them directly to the lung in a less invasive way than traditional treatments.
Immunotherapy boosts a patient’s immune system so the body can better fight mesothelioma.
In 2020, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved two immunotherapy drugs, Opdivo® (nivolumab) and Yervoy® (ipilimumab), to treat pleural mesothelioma after trials showed they helped patients live longer.
This marked the first drug regimen approved for mesothelioma in 16 years. Other mesothelioma immunotherapy drugs are currently being studied as well.
Learn more about immunotherapy and other emerging treatments.
Photodynamic therapy uses high-intensity light to activate the body’s immune response and destroy cancer cells. This therapy is usually more effective in localized mesothelioma cases rather than widespread cancer.
Photodynamic therapy is typically performed in an outpatient setting, according to the National Cancer Institute (NCI). This means patients can usually go home after treatment without needing to be hospitalized.
Since photodynamic therapy is typically performed in an outpatient setting, patients can usually go home after treatment without needing to be hospitalized.
Tumor Treating Fields
Tumor treating fields (TTFields) use harmless electrical pads to stop mesothelioma from spreading. The pads’ electrical fields interrupt the cancer cells’ ability to divide.
The FDA approved TTFields for treating pleural mesothelioma in 2019. However, patients who receive this new treatment for mesothelioma must also undergo chemotherapy.
Palliative Mesothelioma Treatment
Palliative mesothelioma care helps improve patients’ quality of life who undergo aggressive treatments and those unable to receive curative treatment.
Common palliative mesothelioma treatments include minor surgeries, low doses of chemotherapy or radiation, pain medications, and alternative therapies.
Common Palliative Surgeries for Mesothelioma
The goal of palliative surgery is to ease symptoms of mesothelioma like chest or abdominal pain, weakness, and shortness of breath.
Palliative mesothelioma surgeries include:
- Paracentesis: This drains fluid in the lining of the abdominal wall and the lining surrounding the internal organs to reduce peritoneal mesothelioma symptoms.
- Partial pleurectomy: Doctors surgically remove part of the pleura (lung lining) so fluid can’t fill it. Fluid buildup in the pleura is a common cause of discomfort in pleural mesothelioma patients.
- PleurX catheter: A catheter can also be inserted into the pleural space if a patient suffers from pleural effusions (fluid buildup in the chest wall) that keep coming back. Patients can then drain the fluid at home instead of going to the hospital.
- Thoracentesis: Doctors use a needle to drain pleural effusions so patients can breathe easier and maintain oxygen levels.
- Video-assisted thoracoscopic surgery (VATS) talc pleurodesis: The space between the two layers of the pleura is sealed with medical-grade talc so that it can no longer fill with fluid.
Many patients who receive palliative mesothelioma treatment can still undergo more aggressive treatments like curative surgery and chemotherapy to hopefully live longer.
Other Palliative Mesothelioma Treatments
Mesothelioma patients who don’t qualify for surgery may be able to seek other forms of symptom-relieving treatment.
Non-surgical palliative care options for mesothelioma include:
- Alternative treatment: Acupuncture, yoga, meditation, and exercise have helped some mesothelioma patients reduce stress and improve their overall well-being. These are not a replacement for professional medical care but can be used alongside traditional therapies.
- Chemotherapy/radiation: In addition to serving as potentially curative treatments, chemotherapy and radiation therapy can also decrease pain by shrinking tumors that are pressing on bones, nerves, or major blood vessels.
- Pain medication: Patients may be able to use over-the-counter drugs to treat mild to moderate cancer pain. Doctors may recommend a prescription medication like steroids or opioids for more severe pain.
Not sure which treatment is best for you? Download our Free Questions to Ask Your Doctor Checklist to ensure you get the care you need.
How Nutrition Affects Mesothelioma Treatment
A patient’s diet and nutrition can greatly impact mesothelioma treatment options. Top mesothelioma doctors can work with patients to ensure they get the proper nutrients they need before, during, and after their cancer treatments.
According to the Mesothelioma Applied Research Foundation, doctors will typically assess a patient’s diet before treatments begin and monitor how their nutritional needs change over time.
For example, some patients may need to increase their calorie intake to avoid losing muscle mass. Other patients might need to limit their fluid intake if they have fluid buildup in the linings of their abdomen or lungs.
Some mesothelioma treatment centers have on-staff dietitians to help cancer patients manage their nutrition.
Mesothelioma Doctors and Cancer Centers
Top mesothelioma doctors specialize in the diagnosis and treatment of mesothelioma and have years (often decades) of experience helping patients diagnosed with this rare cancer.
Leading doctors who treat mesothelioma include:
Dr. Robert Cameron25+ years of experience
Chief of the Division of Thoracic Surgery at the West Los Angeles VA Medical Center
Dr. Jacques Fontaine15+ years of experience
Director of the Mesothelioma Research and Treatment Center at H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center
Dr. Hedy Lee Kindler25+ years of experience
Director of the Mesothelioma Program at the University of Chicago Comprehensive Cancer Center
Dr. Raja Flores20+ years of experience
Chairman for the Department of Thoracic Surgery at Mount Sinai Hospital
The doctors listed above and many others treat patients at top mesothelioma cancer centers located across the country.
Leading cancer centers that treat mesothelioma include:
Baylor College of Medicine Lung Institute
Dr. Taylor Ripley
- Has a robust clinical trials program testing new and promising therapies
- Home to the Mesothelioma Treatment Center founded by the late Dr. David Sugarbaker
Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH)
Dr. Raphael Bueno
- Birthplace of the extrapleural pneumonectomy (EPP)
- Home of the International Mesothelioma Program, one of the most comprehensive mesothelioma cancer research programs in the world
H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center
Dr. Jacques Fontaine
- Home to the Mesothelioma Research and Treatment Center
- Tailors treatment approaches to each patient using the expertise of a multidisciplinary team
Washington Cancer Institute
- Offers specialized treatment for peritoneal mesothelioma patients
- Home of the Peritoneal Surface Malignancies Program dedicated to treating rare abdominal cancers
Veterans who have been diagnosed with mesothelioma can also receive specialized care at VA treatment centers managed by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). These centers are located across the country and are staffed by highly trained doctors and surgeons like Dr. Cameron and others.
Mesothelioma Treatment Costs
Many patients have questions about how much their mesothelioma treatment will cost. Unfortunately, mesothelioma can be costly without financial support.
Between scans, chemotherapy, and surgical procedures, the estimated cost to treat mesothelioma can easily exceed $400,000.
Fortunately, many resources exist to help mesothelioma patients and their families pay for treatment. Get your Free Mesothelioma Guide to learn about the types of financial assistance that are available.
*Based on the average costs for 1 year of mesothelioma treatment. Costs can vary depending on insurance coverage, location, hospitalization, type of cancer treatment and/or diagnostic testing, and other factors.
Legal Help for Mesothelioma Treatment Costs
One of the best ways to get help paying for mesothelioma treatment is by exploring your legal options.
With help from a legal team, you may qualify for millions of dollars in mesothelioma compensation, which can go toward your medical expenses and protect your family if you pass away. Top mesothelioma attorneys will do all they can to secure money for treatment, transportation, and other expenses.
Find Mesothelioma Treatment Near You
Curative and palliative mesothelioma treatments may help to relieve symptoms, kill cancer cells, and improve your life expectancy.
Many mesothelioma treatment options are available to fight this deadly asbestos-related disease. Top health professionals can determine which treatments work best for your diagnosis and recommend follow-up or supportive care as needed.
Thankfully, many patients can access the latest treatments at cancer centers in their area. If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with mesothelioma, use our Free Doctor Match to find a local specialist today.
Mesothelioma Hope has no affiliation with and is not endorsed or sponsored by any of the doctors listed above. The contact information above is listed for informational purposes only. You have the right to contact these mesothelioma specialists directly.
Common Questions About Mesothelioma Treatment
What is the best treatment for mesothelioma?
The best way to treat mesothelioma will depend primarily on the type and stage of your cancer.
Your mesothelioma doctor and health care team will work with you to determine the best course of treatment based on the risks, side effects, and potential benefits.
Contact us at (866) 608-8933 if you need help finding a specialized mesothelioma doctor.
Can you be cured of mesothelioma?
There’s not an official cure at this time, but long-term survival may be possible. Some patients have lived for 20 years or longer thanks to mesothelioma treatments.
Researchers are also studying new treatments in the hope of finding a cure.
In the meantime, patients can seek different treatment options to help them live longer. Learn more about life-extending treatments in our Free Mesothelioma Guide.
How long do you live after being diagnosed with mesothelioma?
Most mesothelioma patients live 12-21 months after being diagnosed with the disease. How long you live after diagnosis can depend on your mesothelioma type, cell type, age, and overall health.
Mesothelioma treatments such as surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, and more may help you live longer.
Are there any new treatments for mesothelioma?
Yes. New mesothelioma treatments often come from clinical trials conducted at top cancer centers. During mesothelioma clinical trials, doctors test new therapies with the hopes of curing the cancer.
Examples of emerging treatments for mesothelioma include virotherapy, which uses genetically or naturally produced viruses to directly infect tumor cells, and epigenetic therapy, which alters the expression of genes to eliminate cancer cells.