As a cancer patient, one of the most important things you can do for yourself is become your own advocate. Doing so often involves initiating and developing an open and ongoing dialogue with your doctor. Being able to ask questions that help you better understand your diagnosis and available treatment options is vital to improving your overall prognosis.
If you have recently been diagnosed with mesothelioma, you can play an active role in your health by speaking directly with your doctor and/or medical team about mesothelioma treatment options. By becoming your own advocate, you are opening a channel of honest communication between you and your medical team while also ensuring that you get the medical attention you need and deserve.
What mesothelioma treatment options are available to you will vary based on several factors, including:
- Type and location of mesothelioma
- Stage of the cancer
- Your age and overall health
Other factors, such as the level of fluid trapped in the lungs or abdomen and whether or not the tumor(s) can be completely removed, will also play a big role in determining available treatment options on a per-patient basis.
Speaking with your doctor is the best way to ensure you have all of the available information to make the most informed decision possible about what medical care you receive.
Mesothelioma Treatment Options to Discuss With Your Doctor
Caused by exposure to asbestos, mesothelioma is both rare and deadly. Mesothelioma develops after a person is exposed to asbestos, which is a naturally occurring mineral that was used for decades in construction and consumer products. If exposed, asbestos fibers can get stuck in the thin tissue surrounding a person’s lungs, abdomen, or heart (known as the pleural lining).
Because mesothelioma is a slow-developing disease that often takes between 20-50 years after exposure to develop, many doctors only discover mesothelioma tumors in their patients after the cancer has spread and advanced into its final stages. This long latency period is often what’s credited for making mesothelioma an especially deadly form of cancer that is difficult to treat.
A specialist typically makes a mesothelioma diagnosis through a combination of tests. According to the Mayo Clinic, some of these tests may include:
- CT scans of the chest and abdomen
- Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
- Positron emission tomography (PET)
Once a mesothelioma diagnosis is confirmed, the doctor will assign the cancer a stage, which is one of the biggest factors in determining which treatment options may be best for you.
Treatment Options for Mesothelioma
As a mesothelioma patient, you should discuss with your doctor any available treatment options and, with their help, determine which mesothelioma treatment options you would like to pursue.
Some mesothelioma patients are willing to attempt any treatment possible in order to improve their chances of surviving longer. Other patients will look toward palliative treatments, or treatments that will help them live as comfortably as possible in their remaining days.
Below are some of the more common mesothelioma treatment options.
For certain mesothelioma patients — often those who are younger and/or in better general health or those who have had the benefit of discovering their mesothelioma in the early stages — surgery may present the best opportunity to improve one’s overall prognosis.
Surgeons may be able to remove some of the mesothelioma tumor(s) but are often unable to remove mesothelioma tumor(s) entirely. Because mesothelioma may cause fluid to build up in the chest and/or abdomen, surgery may also be conducted to remove the fluid.
More commonly, a type of surgery known as a pleurectomy may be conducted to remove the thin tissue that surrounds the lungs, heart, and abdomen. In some cases, surgery may be used to remove the lung that is most impacted by mesothelioma tumors.
When surgery is not possible, chemotherapy may be used as a means of shrinking mesothelioma tumors. Chemotherapy is a type of cancer treatment method that uses anti-cancer drugs to destroy cancer cells.
Chemotherapy can also be used before surgery to help make surgical procedures easier or after surgery to lower the chances of the cancer returning.
Radiation therapy, also known as radiotherapy, is a type of cancer treatment that uses high levels of radiation to kill cancer cells by damaging their DNA.
For patients who are unable to undergo therapy, radiation therapy can be used to help alleviate some of the physical symptoms of advanced mesothelioma. As with chemotherapy, radiation therapy can also be used after surgery to reduce any remaining tumors and cancer cells.
Additional Treatment Options
In addition to surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy, there are other ways to treat mesothelioma, including emerging treatment methods such as immunotherapy, which uses the body’s immune system to attack and destroy cancer cells.
Some qualified mesothelioma patients may be able to partake in clinical trials, which are studies of novel treatment methods for mesothelioma. Clinical trials are used to test the effectiveness of new cancer drugs and/or procedures.
The Importance of Speaking With Your Doctor
With such a wide array of mesothelioma treatment options available, it can be especially difficult to determine on your own which treatments may be the most helpful for you in your individual situation. Learning to be your own advocate can be difficult, but it is a crucial step toward identifying the right life-extending treatment options.
A mesothelioma specialist is the most qualified type of doctor available for discussing possible treatment options. Once you open an honest dialogue with your doctor, they will lend their knowledge, years of experience, and expertise to you — helping to develop a treatment plan that works for you.
Organizations such as the National Institutes of Health (NIH) often discuss the importance of clear and honest communication between doctors and their patients. When it comes to discussing treatment options with your doctor, the NIH recommends you do the following two things:
- Develop and write down a list of questions to ask your doctor: By doing this simple exercise, you will ensure that any questions you have are addressed. In addition, you can also write down any concerns you have about your symptoms, diagnosis, prognosis, and potential treatment options. Be sure to bring this list with you to your next appointment.
- Take someone with you to your next appointment: Simply bringing someone along with you to any medical consultation, especially those concerning possible treatment options, can help tremendously. Your companion can serve as an additional advocate for your health, helping to communicate your thoughts, feelings, and concerns. They may even bring up questions and concerns that you hadn’t yet considered.
Dr. Matthew Memoli, a physician who works for the NIH says:
“There’s no such thing as a dumb question in the doctor’s office. I try very hard to make my patients feel comfortable so that they feel comfortable asking questions, no matter how dumb they think the question is.”
If, after your appointment, you remain uncertain about your plan or have any follow-up questions, be sure to contact your doctor immediately. For a treatment plan to achieve any level of success, the patient and their doctor must be on the same page.
When your health is on the line, it’s important not to wait until your next appointment to make sure you understand your treatment plan. Start being your own advocate today.