Chemotherapy, also known as drug therapy, is a cancer treatment that uses chemical substances to kill cancer cells and prevent them from multiplying. Depending on the specific drugs being used, chemotherapy may be administered by pill or may be injected into a vein or muscle. Once inside the body, chemotherapy drugs enter the bloodstream, travel throughout the body, and can kill cancer cells all over the body.

In addition to killing cancer cells, chemotherapy drugs can kill good cells, like those in hair follicles and in the gastrointestinal system. With mesothelioma, healthy cells can be spared by injecting the chemotherapy drugs directly into the affected body part rather than distributing the drugs throughout the body. For instance, chemotherapy drugs can be injected directly into the chest to treat pleural mesothelioma or directly into the abdomen to treat peritoneal mesothelioma.  

Purposes of Mesothelioma Chemotherapy

Unfortunately, chemotherapy generally does not cure mesothelioma. However, depending on how advanced a particular mesothelioma case is, chemotherapy can be used to achieve different goals such as:

  • To stop the cancer from spreading or growing
  • To shrink tumors prior to surgery (neoadjuvant chemotherapy)
  • To destroy microscopic disease remaining after surgery (adjuvant chemotherapy)
  • To relieve symptoms, such as pain (palliative chemotherapy)

Mesothelioma Chemotherapy Drugs

Often, mesothelioma patients are not surgical candidates. As a result, mesothelioma patients typically use chemotherapy treatment to slow cancer growth and to relieve symptoms. A combination of two drugs, Alimta and Cisplatin, is currently considered the most effective mesothelioma chemotherapy treatment.

 The Alimta/Cisplatin chemotherapy regimen is the first FDA approved treatment specifically for malignant mesothelioma. The first drug, Alimta, works by blocking the enzymes necessary for DNA copying and cell division. The second drug, Cisplatin, works by connecting to DNA strands, making it impossible for cancer cells to divide. Together, Alimta and Cisplatin help stop cancer cells from multiplying.

Mesothelioma Chemotherapy Side Effects

In addition to killing cancer cells, chemotherapy kills some normal cells. It is this damage done to normal cells that causes chemotherapy side effects. While chemotherapy can cause many different side effects, some of the most common side effects are:

  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Hair loss
  • Fatigue and anemia
  • Bone pain
  • Infections
  • Mouth sores
  • Appetite loss, weight loss

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Published November 17, 2011 by