Mesothelioma is typically first detected after symptoms of shortness of breath, difficulty breathing, pain in the chest, or pain or swelling in the abdomen become apparent. When these mesothelioma symptoms are present, the physician will usually order a chest x-ray and listen to the chest. In many cases, the chest x-ray will reveal that fluid has accumulated in the lung. This accumulation of fluid is called a pleural effusion and is a common sign of mesothelioma.
The symptoms of the pleural effusion can be relieved by a procedure known as a thoracentesis. The procedure is performed by inserting a needle through the chest wall between the ribs into the area of the lung where the fluid has accumulated. The fluid is then drained out and the lung can more fully expand, thus giving the patient some immediate relief from the breathing difficulties and shortness of breath.
Treatment Option Overview
There are treatments for all patients with malignant mesothelioma. Three kinds of treatment are most commonly used:
- 1. Surgery (taking out the cancer)
- 2. Radiation therapy (using high-dose x-rays or other high-energy rays to kill cancer cells)
- 3. Chemotherapy (using drugs to fight the cancer)
Surgery is a common treatment of malignant mesothelioma. The doctor may remove part of the lining of the chest or abdomen and some of the tissue around it. Depending on how far the cancer has spread, a lung also may be removed in an operation called a pneumonectomy. Sometimes part of the diaphragm, the muscle below the lungs that helps with breathing, is also removed.
Radiation therapy uses high-energy x-rays to kill cancer cells and shrink tumors. Radiation may come from a machine outside the body (external radiation therapy) or from putting materials that produce radiation (radioisotopes) through thin plastic tubes in the area where the cancer cells are found (internal radiation therapy).
Chemotherapy uses drugs to kill cancer cells. Chemotherapy may be taken by pill, or it may be put into the body by a needle in the vein or muscle. Chemotherapy is called a systemic treatment because the drug enters the bloodstream, travels through the body, and can kill cancer cells throughout the body. In mesothelioma, chemotherapy may be put directly into the chest (intrapleural chemotherapy).
Intraoperative photodynamic therapy is a new type of treatment that uses special drugs and light to kill cancer cells during surgery. A drug that makes cancer cells more sensitive to light is injected into a vein several days before surgery. During surgery to remove as much of the cancer as possible, a special light is used to shine on the pleura. This treatment is being studied for early stages of mesothelioma in the chest.
Standard mesothelioma treatment may be considered because of its effectiveness in patients in past studies, or participation in a clinical trial may be considered. Clinical trials are designed to find better ways to treat cancer patients and are based on the most up-to-date information. Clinical trials are ongoing in many parts of the country for many patients with malignant mesothelioma. If you or a loved one suffers from mesothelioma and would like to file a an asbestos cancer lawsuit, contact Brown | Gould | Kiely, LLP, serving residents of Baltimore and Annapolis, Maryland, or Washington, DC, as well as victims throughout the United States, for a consultation about your case. To learn more about clinical trials, call the Cancer Information Service at 1-800-4-CANCER (1-800-422-6237); TTY at 1-800-332-8615.
Learn more about mesothelioma misconceptions.
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