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About chemotherapy for mesothelioma

Chemotherapy uses anti cancer or ‘cytotoxic’ drugs to destroy cancer cells. You may have chemotherapy for pleural mesothelioma alongside surgery and radiotherapy, as a combined treatment. This approach gives the best control of mesothelioma. Even if your mesothelioma is not suitable for surgery, chemotherapy may help you to feel better. But you will have to be fit enough to cope with the side effects of the chemotherapy and you will need to talk this over with your cancer specialist.

You may have chemotherapy for peritoneal mesothelioma. For early stage disease, your specialist may suggest chemotherapy directly into your abdomen during or after surgery. The doctor makes a small cut in the wall of your abdomen. Then they put a tube called a catheter through the opening and into your tummy (abdomen). The chemotherapy is given into your abdominal cavity through the catheter. The chemotherapy may be heated to a few degrees above body temperature as some doctors think this may make it more effective.

 

CR PDF Icon You can view and print the quick guides for all the pages in the Treating mesothelioma section.

 

 

What chemotherapy is

Chemotherapy uses anti cancer (cytotoxic) drugs to destroy cancer cells. The drugs are usually given into a vein or taken as tablets. The drugs circulate in the bloodstream around the body.

You may have chemotherapy for early stage pleural mesothelioma alongside surgery and radiotherapy. If you have advanced pleural mesothelioma, chemotherapy can help to shrink or control the mesothelioma for some time and can help some people to live longer. But you will have to be fit enough to cope with the side effects of the chemotherapy and you will need to talk this over with your cancer specialist.

For peritoneal mesothelioma, chemotherapy is often given into a vein to shrink the tumour and control the mesothelioma for a time. For early stage peritoneal mesothelioma, some doctors are using chemotherapy given into the abdomen during or after surgery. This is called intraperitoneal chemotherapy and aims to try to get rid of the mesothelioma completely.

 

Chemotherapy into a vein for mesothelioma

You usually have chemotherapy for mesothelioma into a vein, either through a drip, or as an injection straight into the bloodstream. You may have treatment with a single drug or several chemotherapy drugs together.

A course of chemotherapy is made up of a number of cycles. You usually have the drugs over a few days. Then you have a break for a few weeks to allow your body to recover from the effects of the chemotherapy drugs. Then you start another cycle. The number of cycles you have depends on

  • Which drugs you are having
  • The stage of your mesothelioma
  • The results of your tests
  • How well the treatment works

Most of the treatment is given in the outpatient department, although with some drugs you may have to stay in hospital for a day or two. This is usually either because you need to have a drip over several days. Or it may be because you need to have other treatment alongside the chemotherapy, such as extra fluids through a drip.

The video shows you what happens when you go for chemotherapy as an outpatient.

View a transcript of this video here. (Opens in a new window)

 

Chemotherapy into the abdomen

For peritoneal mesothelioma, your specialist may suggest chemotherapy directly into your abdomen during or after surgery to remove the mesothelioma tumour. This is called cytoreductive surgery. The doctor makes a small cut in the wall of your abdomen. Then they put a tube called a catheter through the opening and into your tummy (abdomen). The chemotherapy may be heated to a few degrees above body temperature because some doctors think this may make it more effective in killing the cancer cells. This is called hyperthermic intraoperative intraperitoneal chemotherapy (HIIC). 

Diagram showing how you have chemotherapy into the abdomen (men and women)

Abdominal chemotherapy gives fewer side effects than with chemotherapy into a vein because the chemotherapy drugs stay inside the abdominal cavity. Very little gets into the bloodstream. 

 

Dietary or herbal supplements and chemotherapy

We don't yet know much scientifically about how some nutritional or herbal supplements may interact with chemotherapy. Some could be harmful. It is very important to let your doctors know if you take any supplements. Or if you are prescribed them by alternative or complementary therapy practitioners.

Talk to your specialist about any other tablets or medicines you take while you are having active treatment. There is information about the safety of herbal, vitamin and diet supplements in the complementary therapies section.

Some studies seem to suggest that fish oil preparations may reduce the effectiveness of chemotherapy drugs. If you are taking or thinking of taking these supplements talk to your doctor to find out whether they could affect your treatment.

 

Where to find out more about chemotherapy

Look at the main chemotherapy section. It explains the treatment in detail including

If you would like more information about anything to do with chemotherapy, contact our cancer information nurses. Or contact one of the mesothelioma organisations. They will be happy to help. They often have free factsheets and booklets that they can send to you. Factsheets and booklets about mesothelioma are listed on our mesothelioma reading list.

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Updated: 24 November 2015