Chemotherapy for pleural mesothelioma

Chemotherapy uses anti-cancer (cytotoxic) drugs to destroy cancer cells. They disrupt the way cancer cells grow and divide but they also affect normal cells. You may be offered chemotherapy to help slow the growth of your mesothelioma and control symptoms. Chemotherapy is also used to reduce symptoms such as pain and breathlessness. Your doctor will let you know if it’s a suitable treatment for you.

How chemotherapy is given

Chemotherapy drugs for pleural mesothelioma are usually given by injection into a vein (intravenously). Each session of chemotherapy may last between one and a few days, and is followed by a rest period of a few weeks. This is known as a cycle of treatment. The number of cycles you have will depend on the stage of your cancer and how well it is responding to treatment.

The drugs that are used

The most commonly used drugs to treat pleural mesothelioma are pemetrexed (Alimta®) together with cisplatin (or sometimes carboplatin). You’ll usually be given these drugs on the same day as an outpatient. You’ll then have a rest with no chemotherapy for 20 days before starting your next cycle of treatment. If you have pemetrexed, you’ll be given the vitamins B12 and folic acid. These help to reduce side effects of treatment without reducing its effectiveness.

Other chemotherapy drugs may sometimes be used. These may be given as part of a clinical trial.

Side effects

Chemotherapy drugs can affect some of the healthy cells in your body and this can cause side effects. Most side effects will go away when treatment is over.

Each person’s reaction to chemotherapy is different. Some people have very few side effects, while others may experience more.

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Your feelings

You may experience difficult feelings while having chemotherapy treatment. Talking these over can be helpful.

Where can you have chemotherapy?

You usually have chemotherapy in a chemotherapy day unit or clinic. If your treatment is more complex, you may need to stay in hospital.