Mesothelioma

You are here: 

Treatments for pleural mesothelioma

Treatment options for pleural mesothelioma are based on whether the cancer can be removed with surgery (is resectable) or can’t be removed with surgery (is unresectable). Your healthcare team will suggest treatments based on your needs and work with you to develop a treatment plan.

People with the sarcomatoid subtype of pleural mesothelioma are not usually offered surgery. This is because it is an aggressive tumour that comes back (recurs) quickly after treatment.

The following are treatment options for the different stages of pleural mesothelioma.

Resectable pleural mesothelioma

Resectable pleural mesothelioma includes most stage 1 tumours and may include some stage 2 and 3 tumours.

Radiation therapy

External beam radiation therapy is now given before surgery for resectable pleural mesothelioma, as studies have shown that this significantly improves survival.

External beam radiation therapy may be given after an extrapleural pneumonectomy for resectable pleural mesothelioma, if it wasn’t done before surgery.

Radiation is directed to the side of the chest where the mesothelioma has been found.

Radiation therapy is usually not given after a pleurectomy and decortication because of the risk it could damage the lung.

Surgery

Surgery is more helpful when all or most of the cancer can be removed. You must be healthy enough to have surgery and recover from it.

The types of surgery offered are:

  • extrapleural pneumonectomy
  • pleurectomy and decortication

Chemotherapy

Chemotherapy is offered after surgery for resectable pleural mesothelioma.

The most common chemotherapy drug combinations used to treat pleural mesothelioma are:

  • cisplatin and pemetrexed (Alimta)
  • cisplatin and raltitrexed (Tomudex)
  • pemetrexed and carboplatin (Paraplatin, Paraplatin AQ) – may be offered to people who have other health problems and can’t be given cisplatin

Unresectable pleural mesothelioma

Unresectable pleural mesothelioma includes stage 4 tumours as well as some stage 2 and stage 3 tumours. The cancer has spread too far for surgery to remove it completely.

The same treatments used for unresectable disease may also be offered to people who are not well enough to have surgery to remove the mesothelioma and to others who may choose not to have surgery.

Palliative surgeries

Palliative surgeries relieve symptoms, such as pain or difficulty breathing, but they do not treat the cancer itself. The palliative surgeries that may be offered for unresectable pleural mesothelioma include:

  • debulking surgery
  • thoracentesis
  • pleurodesis

Chemotherapy

The most common chemotherapy drug combinations used to treat pleural mesothelioma are:

  • cisplatin and pemetrexed (Alimta)
  • cisplatin and raltitrexed (Tomudex)
  • pemetrexed and carboplatin (Paraplatin, Paraplatin AQ) – may be offered to people who have other health problems and can’t be given cisplatin
  • cisplatin and gemcitabine (Gemzar)

Chemotherapy drugs that are used alone to treat mesothelioma are:

  • pemetrexed
  • gemcitabine
  • vinorelbine (Navelbine)

Radiation therapy

External beam radiation therapy is given to relieve pain or control the symptoms of unresectable pleural mesothelioma.

Recurrent pleural mesothelioma

Recurrent pleural mesothelioma means that the cancer has come back after it has been treated. There are no standard treatments for recurrent pleural mesothelioma. Your healthcare team will suggest treatments based on your needs and work with you to develop a treatment plan.

Treatment decisions are based on:

  • where the cancer has come back
  • what treatments have already been given
  • your overall health

Treatment options may include palliative surgery, chemotherapy or radiation therapy.

If you can’t have or don’t want cancer treatment

You may want to consider a type of care to make you feel better without treating the cancer itself. This may be because the cancer treatments don’t work anymore, they’re not likely to improve your condition or they may cause side effects that are hard to cope with. There may also be other reasons why you can’t have or don’t want cancer treatment.

Talk to your healthcare team. They can help you choose care and treatment for advanced cancer.

Clinical trials

There may be a clinical trial in Canada open to people with pleural mesothelioma. Clinical trials look at new ways to prevent, find and treat cancer. Find out more about clinical trials.

Stories

Parker Murchison My favourite thing about Camp Goodtime is being able to hang out with other kids who have survived cancer. They know what is going on in your life and can help you get through it.

Read Parker's story

Funding world-class research

Icon - paper

Cancer affects all Canadians but together we can reduce the burden by investing in research and prevention efforts. Learn about the impact of our funded research.

Learn more