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Mesothelioma Treatment Options

Timely diagnosis is imperative.

Mesothelioma, like any cancer, is severely debilitating. Asbestos related diseases affect one’s ability to breathe and function well. Prompt diagnosis and an appropriate treatment protocol provide the best chances for a positive outcome and a higher quality of life.

Treatment Options

Some patients fight mesothelioma aggressively; others wish to minimize the amount of discomfort. You, your family and physician will decide the course of treatment. While many patients succumb to mesothelioma, others have been able to substantially improve their prognosis.

The three primary treatment options for malignant mesothelioma are:

  • Chemotherapy
  • Radiation therapy
  • Surgery

Chemotherapy and radiation are often used in conjunction after surgery. While they rarely eradicate all cancerous mesothelioma cells, chemo and radiation can improve the length and quality of life. Clinical trials of experimental treatments are also underway.


Chemo is often implemented in addition to or in lieu of surgery. Special drugs in chemotherapy can often slow or stop the growth of cancer cells. The severity and extent of mesothelioma, as well as the health and strength of the patient, dictate the specific type of drugs and the amounts and frequency required. Sometimes chemo is used in conjunction with other cancer treatments. Your physician is the person to make this decision. Chemotherapy treatment can be administered at home, at a doctor’s office or during a stay in a hospital or cancer treatment center.

Radiation Therapy

According to the National Cancer Institute, about half of all cancer patients receive some form of radiation treatment in conjunction with surgery or chemotherapy. Types of radiation can include:

  • External radiation – usually given on an outpatient basis
  • Internal radiation – used for internal localized irradiation of the cancer
  • Systematic radiation – administered orally or through injection

For mesothelioma patients, radiation is usually only used in conjuction with surgery. Otherwise, it has not been proven to be useful in treating mesothelioma. Your doctor will work with an entire treatment team to determine a unique plan of action for you. They will weigh dosage, frequency and complementary options and together you will decide on the best course of treatment.


When an oncologist (cancer specialist) determines that surgery is recommended to treat the mesothelioma, your physician or other specialist will advise you on what to expect. You will receive a comprehensive list of facts, preparation requirements and considerations you’ll want to know beforehand. Your doctor will work closely with a team of specialists to ensure the best possible outcome of the surgery. They will work with you on an after-care plan as well.

When surgery is an option there are several possible procedures depending upon the location of the mesothelioma tumor and whether the disease has spread. Potential procedures include:

  • Pleurectomy, performed where more extensive surgery is not possible.
  • Pleurectomy/decortication, performed during early stage disease with the goal of removing all gross tumor.
  • Extrapleural pneumonectomy, a radical approach often combined with traditional chemotherapy and/or radiation or other new approaches.

Mesothelioma Treatment – Future Potential

As clinical trials gain positive results, new treatments for mesothelioma occasionally come along. This was the case in 2004, when the FDA approved a new form of chemotherapy specifically developed for treatment of mesothelioma. Called permetrexed disodium, it goes by the name of Alimta and is offered by Eli Lilly. Learn more about this mesothelioma treatment at OncoLink.

Clinical Trials – Hope on the Horizon

Since there are quite often several clinical trials occurring simultaneously, we hold onto the hope that mesothelioma patients will have increasingly better chances for a positive prognosis. For information on current clinical trials, visit one of the many cancer treatment center websites, such as the University of Pennsylvania. Access the U.S. Government’s National Clinical trials website to see a list of clinical trials and whether or not they are presently recruiting participants. 

Clinical trials are sometimes referred to as cancer treatment studies. While you can benefit from researching clinical trial options on your own, it is advisable to consult with your doctor or specialist as you battle mesothelioma. Quite often doctors who specialize in mesothelioma and other forms of asbestos-related diseases know of specific clinical trials that you might not be aware of. They also might be able to recommend alternative treatments.

Mesothelioma Treatment Centers and Doctors

Whatever your treatment choice, base it on sound medical information. Gain a thorough understanding of your options. Treatment opportunities include professional institutions such as the National Cancer Institute’s designated Comprehensive Care Centers, and specialists – doctors, surgeons, researchers and facilities located throughout the United States specializing in the care and treatment of mesothelioma patients. These groups and individual scientists conduct clinical trials, provide support to asbestos cancer patients and their families and are informed about the latest medical treatments available to people with mesothelioma.

For more information on exploring the right treatment for your unique needs, visit our mesothelioma treatment centers page.