Positive Benefits from Chemotherapy Treatments
The word “chemotherapy” causes great anxiety and dread to many patients and their loved ones. Images and thoughts of pain and the common side effects of nausea, fatigue, appetite loss, and vomiting are typical. No doubt the common side effects of chemotherapy are unpleasant and difficult to deal with – especially for older or frail patients. While nothing can reduce the negative side effects associated with chemotherapy, patients and their loved ones can take solace in the fact that there is clearly a positive benefit to undergoing chemotherapy. With respect to mesothelioma patients, chemotherapy is an effective method for destroying cancer cells and prolonging life expectancy.
Chemotherapy Drugs Attack Cancer Cells
Chemotherapy is a drug treatment regimen that employs powerful and potent chemicals to kill malignant cancer cells growing in the body. In its simplest form, chemotherapy is a medical term for therapy that utilizes anti-cancer drugs. Chemotherapy uses specialized drugs, often in combination with each other, to destroy cancer cells. A dual and correlative purpose of chemotherapy is to prevent the cancer cells from multiplying. Chemotherapy drugs can be employed to reduce a tumor prior to surgery or to kill cancer cells that remain following surgery. The goal is to destroy cancer cells and to inhibit the spread of cancer cells from the initial site of a tumor.
Common Treatment for Mesothelioma Patients
When surgery is not an option for mesothelioma patients, chemotherapy is the most frequent means to combat the tumor. As mentioned above, it is routinely used in conjunction with surgical operations, both pre and post-surgery. It is also used with radiation for a multimodality treatment approach. Scientists are constantly striving to develop new innovative chemotherapy drugs and chemotherapy regiments.
In a promising development, researchers have recently found success involving select patients with early stage pleural mesothelioma and who can withstand the rigors of invasive extrapleural pneumonectomy (EPP) surgery. Chemotherapy is used as a preoperative treatment and then is followed by the EPP, together with post-operative radiation therapy.
Combination Chemotherapy Drugs Show Best Results
Scientists and treating doctors have concluded that chemotherapy drugs used in combinations of two or more have shown better results in treating mesothelioma patients. Previously treatment regimens used more traditional chemotherapy methods whereby only one drug was used. While using a single anti-cancer chemotherapy drug does show limited positive results, there is a trend toward using a multi-drug approach.
Currently, the Food and Drug Administration has only approved the combination of Alimta (or Pemetrexed), with Cisplatin, to treat mesothelioma. Nevertheless, doctors are allowed to prescribe any number of other anti-cancer drugs in combination to treat mesothelioma. These drugs include Carboplatin, Oxaliplatin, Gemicitabine, and Raltitrexed. For patients who cannot tolerate Cisplatin, Carboplatin is often prescribed together with Alimta/Pemetrexed.
Researchers continually experiment in clinical trials and in laboratories with new anti-cancer drugs and innovative combinations of drugs. There are constant efforts underway in the scientific community to uncover new and promising methods to treat mesothelioma with chemotherapy.
Chemotherapy Administered in Various Ways
The most common way to administer chemotherapy drugs to patients is through injection. This is done through a patient’s vein (commonly referred to as intravenous or IV). Chemotherapy may also be administered orally in the form of a pill. Additionally, there are clinical studies being conducted to determine the effectiveness of using a small incision to the chest or abdomen to administer chemotherapy drugs directly into the chest. Dr. Sugarbaker of the International Mesothelioma Program at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, Massachusetts is at the forefront of this procedure, which is known as intracavity chemotherapy.
Intracavity Chemotherapy Appears Promising
Intracavity chemotherapy appears promising because it allows doctors to administer high doses of chemotherapy drugs directly to the tumor; while at the same time limiting side effects to the other parts of the body. Many doctors and researchers also believe that hyperthermic chemotherapy, where the drugs are first heated before administration, may prove to be an effective treatment option.
One main drawback to chemotherapy is that the drugs can also destroy healthy cells. This is because their highly toxic nature makes them so effective in killing cancer cells. However, this same property results in healthy cells also being destroyed. While the side effects of chemotherapy are often unpleasant, they are usually short-term and fortunately go away upon completion of treatment.