Treating mesothelioma symptoms

For people with mesothelioma, the main aim of treatment is to control symptoms. There are many ways to control symptoms of pleural and peritoneal mesothelioma.

Controlling mesothelioma symptoms

For people with mesothelioma, the main aim of treatment is to control symptoms. The symptoms of pleural and peritoneal mesothelioma can be controlled in many ways.

Your cancer doctor, specialist nurse or GP can help you manage your symptoms such as:

  • breathlessness
  • a cough
  • a build-up of fluid in the lining of the lungs (pleural effusion)
  • a build-up of fluid in the tummy (ascites)
  • a blocked bowel (bowel obstruction)
  • pain
  • night sweats
  • loss of appetite
  • tiredness

They may refer you to a palliative care team. These teams specialise in managing symptoms and giving emotional support to you and your family. Palliative care teams have specialist nurses who can sometimes visit you at home.

Treatment to control symptoms of pleural mesothelioma

There are different treatments that can help to control the symptoms of pleural mesothelioma.

Breathlessness

Breathlessness is a common symptom of pleural mesothelioma. It is often caused by a build-up of the fluid between the 2 layers of the pleura (the membranes that cover the lungs). This is called a pleural effusion.

We have more information about managing breathlessness.

Cough

Coughing is also a common symptom of mesothelioma. This can be difficult to cope with, as it can sometimes cause other symptoms such as  painvomiting and tiredness.

Your doctor may be able to give you medicines, such as a low dose of morphine painkiller, to help. You may also find it helpful to:

  • sleep in a different position – maybe propped up with pillows
  • use steam inhalations or saline nebulisers – a nebuliser is a small machine that turns saline into a fine mist, so you can breathe it deep into your lungs.

Indwelling pleural catheter (IPC)

Breathlessness or a cough may cause a build-up of fluid (pleural effusion). To help drain the fluid, you can have a small tube inserted into your chest. This is called an indwelling pleural catheter (IPC), and it is put in under local anaesthetic. The tube is about the size of a straw and can open and close at the end.

You can drain the fluid whenever it starts to build up. This might be once a day or every few days, depending on how quickly it builds up. The tube connects to a bottle which you can then disconnect and empty. The rest of the time the tube is not noticeable, it will be under your clothes and does not affect daily activities.

Treatment to control symptoms of peritoneal mesothelioma

There are different treatments that can help to control the symptoms of peritoneal mesothelioma.

Ascites

Peritoneal mesothelioma can cause a build-up of fluid in the tummy This is called ascites. Your tummy becomes swollen and you may have pain, and feel sick and breathless. We have more information about  ascites treatment.

A blocked bowel (bowel obstruction)

Sometimes, peritoneal mesothelioma causes the bowel to become blocked. Symptoms of a blocked bowel may include:

  • pain
  • feeling bloated
  • sickness
  • constipation.

If this happens, tell you doctor straight away. They will give you medicines to control your symptoms. They may also suggest treatments that will help rest your bowel for a while and help with the blockage.

Treatments to control other symptoms of mesothelioma

Pain

Pain is a common symptom of mesothelioma. Tell your doctors or specialist nurse if you have pain so that they can treat it early on.

Some people have nerve pain, which happens when mesothelioma presses on nerves. This type of pain is best treated with painkillers such as:

  • gabapentin
  • pregabalin (Lyrica®)
  • amitriptyline.

If you have nerve pain that has been more difficult to control, your doctor may suggest other methods of pain control. This may include a specialised procedure called a nerve block.

Sometimes, your doctor or nurse may suggest a short stay in hospital or a hospice to get your pain under control. They may also refer you to a doctor who specialises in pain control, or to a pain clinic.

We have more information about managing pain and different types of painkillers..

Night sweats

Mesothelioma can cause some people to sweat a lot at night. This can be distressing, especially if you wake up at night with damp pyjamas and bedding. Tell your doctor if this happens, as they may be able to give you medicines to help. You may also find the following tips helpful:

  • Try to avoid having drinks that contain caffeine before you go to bed, or during the night.
  • Keep the room temperature cool or use a fan.
  • Avoid using duvets or blankets that make you too hot.
  • Lie on a towel so that you avoid getting your bedding damp.
  • Use cotton sheets and pyjamas and have some spare so that you can change them in the night if you need to.

Loss of appetite

Mesothelioma and some cancer treatments can cause problems with eating and digestion. If you do not have much of an appetite, try having smaller, more frequent meals. You can also add high-protein powders to your normal food. Or you can boost your meals with nutritious, high-calorie drinks.

We have more information on:

Tiredness

Many people with mesothelioma feel tired and have less energy to do the things they normally do. It is important not to do too much. Try to balance rest with gentle exercise, such as walking. We have more information about coping with tiredness.

About our information

  • References

    Below is a sample of the sources used in our mesothelioma information. If you would like more information about the sources we use, please contact us at cancerinformationteam@macmillan.org.uk

    Woolhouse I et al. British Thoracic Society Guideline for the investigation and management of malignant pleural mesothelioma. Thorax. 2018.

    Thomas A et al. Mesothelioma. BMJ Best Practice. 2019.

    Baas P et al. Malignant pleural mesothelioma: ESMO Clinical Practice Guidelines for diagnosis, treatment and follow-up.  Annals of Oncology. 26 (Supplement 5): v31–v39. 2015. Available from: www.pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26223247

    Kusamara S et al. Peritoneal mesothelioma: PSOGI/EURACAN clinical practice guidelines for diagnosis, treatment and follow-up. European Journal of Surgical Oncology. March 2020.


  • Reviewers

    This information has been written, revised and edited by Macmillan Cancer Support’s Cancer Information Development team. It has been reviewed by expert medical and health professionals and people living with cancer. It has been approved by Senior Medical Editor, Dr David Gilligan, Consultant Clinical Oncologist.

    Our cancer information has been awarded the PIF TICK. Created by the Patient Information Forum, this quality mark shows we meet PIF’s 10 criteria for trustworthy health information.