How Is Mesothelioma Treated?
Doctors rely on four standard methods of malignant mesothelioma treatment to help patients live longer.
- Surgery: Visible tumors are removed from the body.
- Chemotherapy: Cancer-fighting drugs are injected into the bloodstream to shrink tumors.
- Radiation: High-energy X-rays or particles are directed at tumors to kill cancer cells or shrink tumors before surgery.
- Immunotherapy: Medications are given via an infusion to help the immune system identify and destroy cancer cells.
Your best treatment options will depend on your cancer’s location, stage (spread and severity), and cell type. Your doctor will also consider your age, overall health, and ability to tolerate possible side effects when making your treatment plan.
Your care team may also recommend a combination of treatments to help fight your cancer on multiple fronts. This is called multimodal therapy.
Find a doctor to help create your mesothelioma treatment plan — use our Free Doctor Match to connect with top specialists and surgeons in your area.
Where Should I Start in Getting Mesothelioma Treatment?
If you’ve recently been diagnosed with mesothelioma, you’ll want to start by establishing a relationship with a mesothelioma specialist. They can help you determine your best course of treatment and get you scheduled for any surgeries or chemotherapy sessions.
You’ll also need to consider downtime for recovery from treatment, which can range from a few days to a few weeks after various procedures. During this time, you’ll need help planning for time off work, childcare, and other personal support.
Finally, paying for mesothelioma treatment can be challenging without financial support. Our caring Patient Advocates can help walk you through every step of treatment — helping you schedule your first appointment with a mesothelioma specialist, planning your recovery time, and evaluating options to cover treatment costs.
For some patients, mesothelioma surgery can increase their life expectancy. For others, it’s primarily used to help alleviate symptoms and enhance their comfort and overall well-being.
Patients who are in otherwise good health with early-stage mesothelioma and removable tumors are more likely to qualify for surgery. However, every patient is different — only your doctor can tell you what treatment plan will be best for you.
Surgery for Pleural Mesothelioma
EPP and P/D surgery are two treatment options for malignant pleural mesothelioma (cancer of the lung lining).
An extrapleural pneumonectomy (EPP) removes all visible tumors and the entire affected lung, as well as affected portions of the outer pleura (lung lining), diaphragm, and pericardium (heart lining).
A pleurectomy/decortication (P/D) removes all visible tumors, the outer pleura, the diaphragm, part of the pericardium, and lung tissue if necessary, without removing the affected lung.
Surgery for Peritoneal Mesothelioma
Cytoreductive surgery is the gold standard treatment for malignant peritoneal mesothelioma (cancer of the abdominal lining).
During cytoreductive surgery with HIPEC, doctors remove visible tumors from the abdominal cavity and bathes the area in a heated chemotherapy wash to kill any remaining cancer cells.
A mesothelioma specialist can confirm whether you’re eligible for surgery and which procedure is best for your diagnosis.
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.
Mesothelioma chemotherapy involves administering cancer-killing medications that shrink and slow the growth of tumors. Patients are usually given a combination of the chemotherapy drugs cisplatin and pemetrexed (Alimta®).
Other common chemotherapy drugs include:
- Gemcitabine (Gemzar®)
Patients can receive mesothelioma chemotherapy before, during, or after surgery to help the treatment be more effective.
Chemotherapy can also be combined with immunotherapy and Tumor Treating Fields.
Retired construction worker John Stahl was diagnosed with stage 4 pleural mesothelioma in August 2019. He underwent chemotherapy and is still enjoying life today. “I’m doing very well,” John shares. “I play golf twice a week. I go hang out with my friends when they’re around. Yeah, I’m pretty well back to normal.”
Get our Free Survivors Guide to read more stories of patients who are still thriving years after their mesothelioma diagnosis thanks to chemotherapy, surgery, and other treatments.
Mesothelioma radiation therapy uses electron beams, protons, or other high-energy particles to destroy cancer cells by damaging their DNA. Radiation is more often used to treat pleural mesothelioma than peritoneal mesothelioma since it can damage the abdominal organs in some patients.
Patients can get radiation before, during, or after surgery or chemotherapy. Radiation can help decrease symptoms as well as shrink tumors.
There are two main types of mesothelioma radiation:
- External beam radiation therapy (EBRT): This is the most common type and is administered through the skin from outside the body.
- 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.
A 2020 report published in Thoracic Cancer stated that patients who received EBRT after chemotherapy and P/D surgery lived 23.6 months on average.
Immunotherapy strengthens the immune system so the body can better fight mesothelioma.
In October 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 4 months longer on average than chemotherapy.
This was the first drug regimen approved for mesothelioma in 16 years. Other mesothelioma immunotherapy medications continue to be studied in clinical trials.
Researchers have discovered that combining immunotherapy with surgery and other standard mesothelioma treatments may be the key to fighting this cancer.
A clinical trial completed in April 2023 found that 62% of pleural mesothelioma patients had their cancer shrink or disappear when treated with a combination of Keytruda® (pembrolizumab) and the chemotherapy drugs cisplatin and pemetrexed.
Meanwhile, only 33% of the patients who received standalone chemotherapy had their tumors shrink or disappear.
Clinical Trials and Emerging Treatments
Researchers continue to study new and possibly more effective options for treating mesothelioma.
These emerging treatments are only available through mesothelioma clinical trials until they receive FDA approval.
Here are some examples of newer mesothelioma treatment options:
- Gene therapy modifies the DNA of existing cells to fight cancer by inserting new genes into mesothelioma cells.
- Mesothelioma vaccines are a type of immunotherapy that can help the body attack cancer cells or keep them from growing.
- Photodynamic therapy uses high-intensity light to activate the body’s immune response and destroy cancer cells.
- Targeted therapy focuses on attacking cancer cells directly while reducing harm to healthy tissues.
Learn more about these emerging treatments by calling our Patient Advocates now at (866) 608-8933. We can recommend active clinical trials in your area and connect you with a doctor to assess your eligibility.
Palliative Mesothelioma Treatment to Reduce Symptoms
Palliative mesothelioma care is any type of treatment that can improve a patient’s quality of life by managing their symptoms and reducing pain.
Palliative care can benefit patients who are already receiving standard mesothelioma treatment as well as patients whose cancer is too advanced to treat with surgery or chemotherapy.
Examples of palliative care include surgical procedures like talc pleurodesis, thoracentesis, and paracentesis. These palliative surgeries help mesothelioma patients suffering from painful fluid buildup around the lungs or abdomen.
Nonsurgical palliative care options for mesothelioma include:
- Alternative treatment: Acupuncture, yoga, meditation, and exercise have helped some 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 helping improve life expectancy, chemotherapy and radiation can decrease pain by shrinking any tumors pressing on bones, nerves, or major blood vessels.
- Pain medication: Patients may be able to take over-the-counter drugs to treat mild to moderate pain. Doctors may prescribe steroids or opioids for more severe pain.
How Nutrition Affects Mesothelioma Treatment
Eating healthy and getting proper nutrition are critical for mesothelioma patients undergoing treatment.
Proper diet and nutrition during mesothelioma treatment can help patients:
- Better tolerate the side effects of chemotherapy
- Heal faster from aggressive treatments like surgery
- Increase their physical energy and decrease their fatigue
- Maintain a healthy weight
- Minimize their risk of infection
Most mesothelioma treatment centers have dietitians on staff to help patients manage their nutrition before, during, and after treatment.
Get tips for improving your diet and nutrition during mesothelioma treatment in our Free Survivors Guide.
Doctors Who Treat Mesothelioma
There are doctors at cancer centers across the country who specialize in mesothelioma treatment and have many years of experience helping patients diagnosed with this rare cancer.
Some top mesothelioma doctors include:
Chief of the Division of Thoracic Surgery at the West Los Angeles VA Medical Center
Chair of Surgical Services at Nuvance Health Praxair Cancer Center in Danbury, CT
Director of the Regional Therapies Program at University of Chicago Comprehensive Cancer Center
Chairman for the Department of Thoracic Surgery at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City
Military veterans with mesothelioma can also receive specialized care from highly trained doctors and surgeons at VA treatment centers managed by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).
Mesothelioma Treatment Costs
Treating mesothelioma cancer is expensive, especially if patients need to get care away from home. These costs can have a long-term financial impact on families even after treatment is over.
Between doctor’s visits, surgeries, hospital stays, and chemotherapy sessions, the total cost of mesothelioma treatment can easily exceed $500,000.
Another thing to consider is that Medicare, Medicaid, and private insurance typically don’t cover the unexpected expenses that come up along the way.
Out-of-pocket expenses may include:
- Daily living assistance
- Gas and parking fees
- Long-term care
- Medication co-pays
- Respite for caregivers
The good news is that there’s financial support available for mesothelioma patients. With experienced legal help, you may be able to recover $1 million or more in mesothelioma compensation that can help cover these costs and provide peace of mind for your family.
“You can take care of your children with money from a settlement. It’s just nice to know there’s something there for them.”
Find a Doctor for Mesothelioma Treatment
There are multiple mesothelioma treatment options to help patients fight this deadly asbestos-related cancer.
A mesothelioma specialist can determine which of these treatments are right for you and develop a custom cancer treatment plan that can help you live longer and feel better.
Mesothelioma Hope has referred hundreds of patients to top specialists across the country and can help you schedule your first appointment.
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.
Mesothelioma Treatment Options FAQs
Can mesothelioma be treated?
Yes, mesothelioma is a treatable cancer. Mesothelioma treatment options include surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, immunotherapy, and clinical trials.
The choice of treatment depends on your cancer stage, type of mesothelioma, and overall health. While remission isn’t always possible, mesothelioma treatment can increase your length and quality of life.
Is there any treatment for mesothelioma?
Yes, there are several treatment options for mesothelioma that can help improve your prognosis (outlook and life expectancy). These may include surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, immunotherapy, and emerging treatments accessible through clinical trials.
Palliative treatment is also available to help manage symptoms and enhance your quality of life.
A mesothelioma specialist can determine the best treatment plan based on your individual needs. Find top mesothelioma doctors in your area now.
What is the first-line treatment for mesothelioma?
The first-line treatment for mesothelioma often involves a combination of surgery, chemotherapy, and sometimes radiation therapy, depending on your specific case and the stage of your cancer.
Surgery is performed to remove or debulk the cancer, followed by chemotherapy to target any remaining cancer cells. Your exact treatment plan will depend based on your age, health, and other factors.
What is the best treatment for mesothelioma?
The best way to treat mesothelioma depends on where your cancer is located, how advanced it is, and whether you have any other medical conditions that affect your overall health.
A mesothelioma doctor can work with you to determine the best course of treatment based on the risks, side effects, and potential benefits.
Contact us today at (866) 608-8933 to get help scheduling an appointment with a mesothelioma specialist.
Can you be cured of mesothelioma?
There’s no cure for mesothelioma yet, but long-term survival is possible. Some patients have lived for more than 15 years with treatment from a specialist.
Researchers are also studying new treatments in the hope that we may someday cure mesothelioma.
In the meantime, you can seek different options for mesothelioma management to help you live longer. Contact our Patient Advocates to learn how we can help you access life-extending treatment.
What is the life expectancy of a person with mesothelioma?
Most patients live 12-21 months after being diagnosed with mesothelioma. However, your individual life expectancy will vary based on your mesothelioma location, cell type, age, and overall health.
Treatment methods such as pleural mesothelioma surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and immunotherapy may help you live longer.
Why is mesothelioma so hard to treat?
Mesothelioma is an aggressive cancer that tends to spread quickly. By the time it’s diagnosed, it may have already spread to other parts of the body. In this late stage, surgery can be intricate and risky.
Also, many people diagnosed with this cancer are older and may have underlying health conditions that limit their mesothelioma treatment options.
What is the latest treatment for mesothelioma?
The latest treatment for mesothelioma combines Opdivo®️ (nivolumab) and Yervoy®️ (ipilimumab), two types of immunotherapy drugs. This combination was approved in October 2020 for pleural mesothelioma patients who aren’t candidates for surgery.
As of 2024, researchers are looking into combining immunotherapy with chemotherapy and antiangiogenic drugs like lenvatinib (Lenvima®) and bevacizumab (Avastin®) to make mesothelioma treatment more effective.
These drugs may prevent the growth of mesothelioma by blocking new blood vessels from forming.