Mesothelioma Treatments

Mesothelioma cancer affects the mesothelium, the thin membrane of tissue covering the body’s internal organs. Mesothelioma is caused by asbestos exposure, and can affect several different body systems, including the:

  • Abdominal organs
  • Heart
  • Lungs.

Mesothelioma symptoms depend on the body area affected. As in other cancers, mesothelioma patients have several different treatment options. Treatment of mesothelioma is based on the specific factors of individual cases.

Factors Affecting Choice of Mesothelioma Treatment

When you’re diagnosed with mesothelioma, your doctor will determine the level of advancement and spread of the cancer, a process known as staging. The best treatment of mesothelioma is determined based on the stage, along with your age and overall health.

Depending on your health and the disease’s stage, mesothelioma treatment options will have one of two different goals:

  • Curative care attempts to cure the patient by removing mesothelioma cells from the body.
  • Palliative care doesn’t cure the cancer, but reduces pain and discomfort associated with mesothelioma symptoms, and may prolong life.

Currently, no definitive cure for mesothelioma exists. However, in earlier stages, your doctor may wish to try a more aggressive, curative mesothelioma treatment option. In later stages, when curative treatment isn’t feasible, palliative care may improve your quality of life.

Mesothelioma Treatment Options: Surgery

Surgery is usually most effective in earlier stages, when mesothelioma is more localized. However, mesothelioma is often diagnosed in later stages, so the disease may be too widespread or advanced for surgery. In the future, earlier diagnosis may make surgery a realistic option in more cases.

In many cases, palliative surgery is performed to reduce mesothelioma symptoms and complications. For example, in pleural mesothelioma, the space between the lungs and chest wall fills with fluid, a complication known as pleural effusion. Surgically created scar tissue may prevent further fluid accumulation. This surgery (known as pleurodesis) can ease chest pain and breathing.

Pleural Mesothelioma and Pleural Effusion

Mesothelioma Treatment Options: Chemotherapy

Chemotherapy is an anticancer drug that works to stop cancer cells from growing or dividing. Chemotherapy is more of a palliative measure for mesothelioma, and cannot completely cure the cancer. In mesothelioma, chemotherapy drugs are usually injected into the affected area (such as the pleural or peritoneal cavity). Other drugs may be given to the patient to alleviate side effects of chemotherapy, which include nausea.

Mesothelioma Treatment Options: Radiation

Since it causes the fewest side effects, radiation may be the best of all mesothelioma treatment options for those in a fragile state. Mesothelioma is generally treated with external beam radiation, from high-energy X-rays or another radiation source. These beams are directed from the outside at the affected body area. It improves mesothelioma symptoms, but rarely eliminates tumors.

Combination treatment may be helpful for some patients. For example, chemotherapy/radiation treatment may be given after surgery to prevent recurrence. Finally, new mesothelioma treatments are in development, and patients may receive these treatments by participating in clinical trials. Discuss the risks and benefits of all types of treatment with your doctor before making a decision.


Albelda, S.M., et al. (2009). Localized treatment approaches for malignant pleural mesothelioma and fibrous tumors of the pleura. Retrieved January 4, 2010, from the Mesothelioma Applied Research Foundation Web site: