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Pleural mesothelioma treatment

This page gives an overview of the different treatment options for mesothelioma in the chest. We have information about

  • A quick guide to what's on this page
  • The main treatments
  • Chemotherapy
  • Radiotherapy
  • Surgery
  • Supportive care (palliative care)

A quick guide to what's on this page

Pleural mesothelioma treatment

Your choice of treatment for pleural mesothelioma will depend on how far your cancer has grown (the stage), any other medical conditions you have and your general fitness. Unfortunately, mesothelioma can be very difficult to treat. Nearly all treatment is aimed at controlling the disease for as long as possible and keeping symptoms under control. You may have chemotherapy, radiotherapy or surgery.

If you have early mesothelioma, you may be able to have surgery, followed by chemotherapy or radiotherapy, or both. Or you may have chemotherapy before surgery. 

If you have more advanced mesothelioma, you may have chemotherapy or radiotherapy to control symptoms.

Supportive care (Palliative care)

Mesothelioma is often diagnosed when it is quite advanced. Some people with very advanced disease may be too ill to cope with chemotherapy, radiotherapy, or surgery. But doctors can still give you treatment to try to relieve symptoms such as pain, breathing problems and weight loss.

 

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

 

The main treatments

Unfortunately mesothelioma can be very difficult to treat as it is often found when it is advanced. Nearly all treatment is aimed at controlling the mesothelioma for as long as possible and keeping symptoms under control.

Your treatment options will depend on

  • Your general fitness
  • The stage of your cancer
  • Any other medical conditions you may have

Some people with early mesothelioma may have surgery, followed by chemotherapy or radiotherapy or a combination of both.

If you have more advanced mesothelioma, you may have chemotherapy to shrink it and reduce symptoms. We know from research that chemotherapy can help some people to live some weeks or months longer. Radiotherapy may also shrink the cancer and control symptoms.

Doctors and researchers are working to improve mesothelioma treatment all the time. They may offer you treatment as part of a clinical trial. The results of the trials will be used to improve treatment in the future. We have information about taking part in clinical trials.

Chemotherapy

Chemotherapy uses anti cancer drugs, which for mesothelioma are usually injected into a vein. Depending on the type of chemotherapy drugs used, you may have treatment weekly, or every 2 to 3 weeks.

Chemotherapy may be used to control symptoms in more advanced mesothelioma which cannot be removed surgically. The treatment may also help to slow down the growth of the cancer.

If you have surgery for early stage mesothelioma, you may have chemotherapy before or afterwards. Chemotherapy before surgery is called neoadjuvant chemotherapy and aims to shrink the tumour and make it easier to remove. Chemotherapy after surgery is called adjuvant chemotherapy and aims to delay the cancer coming back for as long as possible.

We have detailed information about chemotherapy for mesothelioma.

Radiotherapy

Radiotherapy is usually given to reduce the symptoms of stage 2, 3, or 4 mesothelioma. It may also slow down the growth of the tumour.

If you have surgery for stage 1 mesothelioma you may have radiotherapy afterwards to try to stop the cancer coming back or to delay it coming back for as long as possible. Radiotherapy given after surgery is called adjuvant radiotherapy.

The length of your radiotherapy treatment will depend on the type and size of your mesothelioma and on why you are being treated.

We have detailed information about radiotherapy for mesothelioma.

Surgery

Surgery can be used to try to completely remove the mesothelioma. There are 2 main types of operation for this. These are removing the pleura (pleurectomy) or removing the pleura together with the lung, pericardium and diaphragm (extrapleural pneumonectomy).

For people with advanced mesothelioma, the surgery aims to remove as much tumour as possible to relieve symptoms - this is called palliative surgery or debulking.

You can read more detailed information about surgery for mesothelioma

Supportive care (palliative care)

Mesothelioma is often diagnosed when it is quite advanced. Some people with very advanced disease may be too ill to cope with treatments such as chemotherapy, radiotherapy or surgery. But they can still have treatment to try to relieve symptoms such as pain, breathing problems and weight loss. Your care will be managed by a palliative care team. This is a team of doctors and nurses who are expert in controlling symptoms of advanced cancer. The team may also include a physiotherapist and dietician. 

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Updated: 17 December 2015