update on mesothelioma

update on mesothelioma
800-813-HOPE (4673)
[email protected]
A diagnosis of mesothelioma can leave you and your loved ones feeling
uncertain, anxious and overwhelmed. There are important treatment
decisions to make, emotional concerns to manage, and insurance and
financial paperwork to organize, among other practical concerns.
It is helpful to keep in mind that there are many sources of information
and support for people coping with mesothelioma. By learning about this
diagnosis and its treatment options, communicating with your health care
team, and surrounding yourself with a support network, you will be better
able to manage mesothelioma and experience a better quality of life.
fact sheet
What is mesothelioma?
Mesothelioma is a rare cancer; it is
possible you never even heard the
word “mesothelioma” until speaking
with your health care team about
symptoms you or a loved one are
experiencing. This type of cancer
affects mesothelium, the tissue lining
the lungs, heart and other organs.
Approximately 75% of mesotheliomas
begin in the lining surrounding the lungs.
This type is called pleural malignant
mesothelioma. Mesothelioma that
begins in the tissue surrounding the
abdominal area, called peritoneal
mesothelioma, accounts for about
10% to 20% of mesotheliomas. It is
estimated that between 2,000 and
3,000 people are diagnosed with
mesothelioma each year in the
United States.
What causes mesothelioma?
Approximately 70% to 80% of people
diagnosed with mesothelioma have
been exposed to asbestos. Asbestos
is a group of natural minerals found
in the earth. It was once commonly
added to cement, insulation, roof
shingles and other products. People
involved in making, installing or
maintaining products containing
asbestos can breathe in dangerous
asbestos fibers. These fibers can also
be carried in asbestos dust on clothing,
exposing family members of workers
to potentially high levels of asbestos.
Older homes and buildings may
contain asbestos. In many cases,
breaking up asbestos may cause
fibers to become airborne, where
they can be inhaled. Do not attempt
to remove asbestos from your home—
hire an expert. The Environmental
Protection Agency offers advice on its
website for dealing with asbestos in
the home at www.epa.gov/asbestos.
How is mesothelioma
It can be challenging to diagnose
mesothelioma, as its symptoms can
be similar to other illnesses, such
as lung cancer. Many people first
notice symptoms when they develop
fluid in the space around the lungs,
a condition called pleural effusion,
or in the abdomen, called ascites.
When this fluid is removed, it can
be analyzed to find out if there are
cancer cells in it.
If mesothelioma is suspected, the
doctor will remove a small amount
of tissue for examination, a process
called a biopsy. Sometimes, a needle
can be used to get a sample of the
lining. More often, the doctor removes
a tissue sample by using a thin tube
inserted through a small incision
in the body. This is called a video
thoracoscopy when used to get
samples from inside the chest, or a
laparoscopy when used to get tissue
samples from inside the abdomen.
What are treatment options for
There are three standard treatment options
for mesothelioma: surgery, radiation therapy
and chemotherapy.
affect cancer cells in those areas. The standard
chemotherapy option for mesothelioma is
Pemetrexed (Alimta), which is often given in
combination with another drug (cisplatin or
carboplatin, for example).
Surgery is an option for people whose
mesothelioma is contained around the lungs or
abdomen. The extent of surgery depends on how
much the mesothelioma has spread. Even if the
doctor removes all the cancer that can be seen
at the time of the surgery, some patients may be
given chemotherapy or radiation therapy after
surgery to destroy any remaining cancer cells.
Will there be more treatments in
the future?
Radiation therapy uses high-energy x-rays or
other types of radiation to destroy cancer cells
or keep them from growing. External radiation
therapy uses a machine outside the body to send
radiation toward the cancer. Internal radiation
therapy uses a radioactive substance that is
placed directly into or near the cancer. The way
radiation therapy is given depends on the type
and stage of mesothelioma.
Because mesothelioma is a less common
diagnosis than other cancers, there may be fewer
clinical trials to choose from at any given time.
To learn more about clinical trials, speak with
your doctor. You can also find listings of clinical
trials through resources such as the National
Cancer Institute’s Cancer Information Service
(800-4-CANCER or www.cancer.gov/clinicaltrials)
or the American Cancer Society’s Clinical Trials
Matching Service (800-303-5691 or
Chemotherapy is a cancer treatment that uses
drugs to stop the growth of cancer cells by
destroying them or stopping them from dividing.
When chemotherapy is taken by mouth or
injected into the body through a vein or muscle,
the drugs enter the bloodstream to reach cancer
cells throughout the body. When chemotherapy
is placed directly into the body, the drugs mainly
Clinical trials help doctors better understand
cancer and ways to reduce its symptoms and
treatment side effects. People in clinical trials
are among the first to receive new treatments.
They are also closely monitored by doctors and
other researchers.
To learn more about mesothelioma and
treatment options, contact the Mesothelioma
Applied Research Foundation (curemeso.org).
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