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Once the doctors know the stage of the mesothelioma, they can plan the most appropriate treatment. Treatment depends on whether the mesothelioma is only in one place or has spread.
Currently, there is no cure for mesothelioma unless it can be completely removed by surgery. Unfortunately, when mesothelioma is diagnosed, it has usually already spread beyond the point where it could be completely removed by surgery. In this case, the aim of treatment is to control symptoms.
Different treatments can be used for mesothelioma. Chemotherapy| and radiotherapy| are the most commonly used treatments. These treatments may be used to control symptoms| such as pain, or to control the cancer for as long as possible. Research has shown that chemotherapy may help some people live longer.
Occasionally, surgery| may be used to help control pleural effusions caused by the mesothelioma. However, there is no evidence that surgery can help people with mesothelioma live longer.
If your tests show that you have mesothelioma, you’ll be looked after by a multidisciplinary team (MDT|). This is a team of people who specialise in treating mesothelioma and in giving information and support. It will normally include:
It may also include other healthcare professionals, such as a physiotherapist, counsellor, psychologist, social worker or dietitian.
The MDT will work together to plan the best treatment for you. When planning your treatment, they will take a number of factors into account including your age, general health and the stage of the mesothelioma.
Occasionally, you may be offered a choice of treatments. If this happens, make sure you have enough information about the different treatments, what is involved and the possible side effects, to help you make the right decision for you.
If you have any questions about your treatment, don’t be afraid to ask your doctor or nurse. It often helps to make a list of questions and to take a relative or close friend with you.
Before you have any treatment your doctor will explain its aims to you. You’ll be asked to sign a form saying that you give your permission (consent) for the hospital staff to give you the treatment. No medical treatment can be given without your consent, and before you are asked to sign the form, you should be given full information about:
If you don’t understand what you’ve been told, let the staff know straight away so they can explain again. Some treatments are complex, so it’s not unusual for people to need their treatment explained more than once. You can always ask for more time to decide about the treatment if you feel that you can’t make a decision when it’s first explained to you.
You are also free to choose not to have the treatment or to stop having it. The staff can explain what may happen if you don’t have it. It’s important to tell a doctor or your nurse if you decide not to have treatment, so they can record your decision in your medical notes. You don’t have to give a reason for not wanting to have treatment, but it can help to let the staff know your concerns so they can give you the best advice.
Many people are frightened at the idea of having cancer treatments, particularly because of the side effects that can occur. Some people ask what would happen if they didn’t have any treatment. Although many of the treatments can cause side effects, these can usually be controlled with medicines.
Treatment can be given for different reasons and the potential benefits will vary depending upon the individual situation. For the few people with early-stage mesothelioma, a combination of surgery, radiotherapy and chemotherapy may be given with the aim of long-term control of the cancer.
However, in most people with mesothelioma, the cancer is at a more advanced stage and any treatment given is with the aim of controlling symptoms. For some people this may lead to an improvement and a better quality of life. But for others, the treatment will have no effect on the cancer and they will get the side effects of the treatment with little benefit.
When a cure is not possible and the aim of treatment is to control the cancer for a period of time, it may be difficult to decide whether to go ahead with treatment. Making decisions in these circumstances is always hard, and you may need to discuss your treatment and symptom control in detail with your doctor.
Usually, your multidisciplinary team will work together as a team to decide the most suitable treatment for you. Even so, you may want to have another medical opinion. Most doctors will be happy to refer you to another specialist for a second opinion, if you feel that this will be helpful. Getting the second opinion may cause a delay in the start of your treatment, so you and your doctor need to be confident that it will provide useful information.
If you go for a second opinion, it can help to take a relative or friend with you, and to have a list of questions ready, so that all your concerns are covered during the discussion.
Content last reviewed: 1 December 2011
Next planned review: 2013
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© Macmillan Cancer Support 2013
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