Mesothelioma is a form of cancer that develops in the lining of the lungs and abdomen. In very rare cases, it may develop around the heart or testicles. Every year, between 2,500 and 3,000 people are diagnosed with the disease.
Mesothelioma is caused almost exclusively by exposure to asbestos. Until the late 20th century, asbestos was used in a wide range of construction materials and manufactured goods. Even for those whom asbestos exposure wasn’t an occupational risk, there was still a chance they’d come into contact with the substance in their day-to-day activities.
While there is no cure for mesothelioma, several treatment options are available. These include surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy. The viability of these treatments depends on several factors, including the stage of the disease and the patient’s overall health.
Side Effects of Mesothelioma Treatment
Treatment of mesothelioma is typically some combination of surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy. In the early stages of the disease, doctors have a wider latitude to use these options as they see fit. Once the disease begins to spread, however, their effectiveness becomes limited. Side effects stemming from these can be quite severe, with many patients saying they’re often worse than the cancer itself. However, their severity can be mitigated with medication and other methods.
The side effects of mesothelioma surgery are much like those of any surgery. They can include bleeding or pain at the incision site, or a general pain in that area. Others include cardiac problems such as abnormal heartbeat and inflammation, fatigue, and possible infection. All of these side effects can be minor or severe depending on how aggressive the procedure is.
Hair loss is the most common side effect associated with chemotherapy. Other mesothelioma chemotherapy side effects can include severe fatigue, vomiting, nausea, diarrhea, and constipation. However, it remains one of the most effective treatments for the disease. Studies show that cancer patients who undergo chemotherapy live, on average, twice as long as those who do not.
In addition to these, chemotherapy can sometimes affect cognitive function. “Chemo brain” refers to the trouble patients may have recalling information or multitasking. Patients sometimes say their memory feels foggy or slow. This condition may go away shortly after treatment has been completed, or it may last for several years. If you or someone you know feels they’re suffering from chemo brain, alert a doctor. There are exercises one can learn to help manage its effects.
Radiation therapy and chemotherapy are often mistaken for the same thing. While chemotherapy refers to a combination of drugs given to a patient in order to kill cancer cells, radiation therapy refers to the use of high doses of radiation to target tumors exactly where they’re located. There are several forms of radiation therapy, each suited for different conditions. External Beam Therapy may work better on large tumors, while Stereotactic Radiosurgery may be most effective on small tumors. Speak with your doctor to determine which treatment method is best for you. Side effects of these treatments include skin irritation, such as dryness, itchiness, peeling, or blistering. Other side effects include fatigue, nausea, and difficulty swallowing. Some side effects of radiation therapy don’t manifest until years after treatment has been completed. These can include scarring of the lung tissue, or calcification of nearby lymph nodes.
Other Side Effects
Aside from the physical side effects brought about by mesothelioma treatment, patients often experience mental and emotional effects as well. Mesothelioma patients can suffer from anxiety and depression. They may often feel afraid, confused, or angry. Because the number of people diagnosed with mesothelioma is relatively small, they can feel isolated, as if they have no one to talk to. It’s extremely important that friends and family members be sensitive to these feelings. Seeking out a mesothelioma support group may be particularly helpful.
It’s important to remember that mesothelioma, as well as its treatment, will affect different people in different ways. Side effects experienced by one person won’t necessarily be experienced by another.
Mitigating the Effects
An individual’s overall health can make a difference in their mesothelioma prognosis. It can also affect the way their body responds to treatment and their ability to deal with its side effects. The steps you need to take to improve your health are very basic, and similar to what anyone who’s ever been on a diet has heard before: Exercise and maintain a proper diet. For those undergoing mesothelioma treatment, health professionals who can assist in these areas can often be contacted through your doctor or hospital. Mental health professionals and support groups can be reached through your hospital as well. While a dietitian can help you remain physically healthy, a counselor can help with emotional support. Giving these areas the attention they require will help ensure you have the best chance of recovery.