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.
Your cancer doctor, specialist nurse or GP can help you manage your symptoms such as:
- 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)
- night sweats
- loss of appetite
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.
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)
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.
There are different treatments that can help to control the symptoms of peritoneal mesothelioma.
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:
- feeling bloated
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.
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:
- pregabalin (Lyrica®)
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.
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:
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.
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 email@example.com
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.
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.
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