Asbestos Cancer Treatment

Asbestos-related cancer is difficult to treat because diagnosis usually doesn't occur for years or even decades after the cancer has developed. Symptoms for mesothelioma, asbestosis, and other asbestos exposure-related diseases are often similar to other common diseases, or minor enough that they don't warrant a second thought. Because of this, treatment is often decades behind, given at a point where the cancer is spread too far to make much of a difference, and many mesothelioma patients within a few years of diagnosis.

Once asbestos cancer has been diagnosed and evaluated to determine the stage of progression and the size of the tumor, a treatment plan will be developed by the health care team and proposed to the patient for their consideration. Age of the patient, overall health, and personal desires will also play an important role in the decision process. A patient may decide to aggressively fight the disease, pursue only those treatments that will contribute to comfort, or choose a level of treatment and care somewhere in between. All the treatment options have unpleasant side effects but they are administered with the intent to increase life span or enhance quality of life.

Surgery to remove the tumor may be done for diagnostic purposes, or may be pursued after diagnosis as a potentially curative measure. Surgery might also be used for the patient who has opted for only palliative care to relieve pain or discomfort. The stage of the cancer, the size of the tumor, and the patient's desires will determine the extent of the surgery, which may range from very minor to highly invasive.

If chemotherapy is elected as part of the treatment course, it may be administered at home, at the doctor's office, or in the hospital. Often, chemotherapy is given before surgery to shrink the tumor or to help manage its growth. Chemotherapy may be alternatively or additionally administered after surgery to destroy any potential new growth. For patients who have elected to pursue only palliative care, administration of chemotherapy may be used to shrink a tumor in order to make the patient more comfortable.

Radiation therapy is the use of high-energy X-rays to kill cells and shrink tumors. This option may be considered as a palliative treatment or as a follow-up measure in conjunction with surgery or chemotherapy to help prevent recurrence. Radiation therapy may be administered externally, internally, or systemically through an injection.

Because asbestos related cancers are so difficult to treat, some patients elect to participate in clinical trials for the safety and effectiveness of new drugs. Cancer trials rarely use placebos so patients will generally receive the untested drug or the standard treatment. Not every patient is eligible for participation, however, and sometimes the need to travel in order to be a part of the study is prohibitive.

The new experimental methods being developed haven't been overly successful yet, but the prospects are intriguing. Among them are gene therapy, immunotherapy, and photodynamic therapy. Gene therapy involves special techniques that replace defective genes with new, healthy ones. Immunotherapy works by training the body to fight off invasive cancer cells, either actively or passively. Active treatments use vaccines created by the body to destroy cancer cells, whereas passive methods use vaccines produced outside of the body. Lastly, photodynamic therapy uses light to kill cancerous cells, while leaving the healthy ones unharmed. Drugs are administered to make the cancer cells sensitive to light, and then they are exposed to a special light that kills them.

Mesothelioma is an onerous opponent and the battle will never be easy. There are weighty considerations with every treatment choice and each patient's desires deserve to be acknowledged.


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