Mesothelioma Pain Management Options

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Specialists are always looking for a cure for mesothelioma, but many patients with this cancer know that the outlook for the disease is poor. But almost as important as curing the cancer is to reduce the pain associated with mesothelioma to improve your quality of life.

Fortunately, there are several mesothelioma pain management options available. Recommended pain management treatments depend on the type of mesothelioma, as well as your overall health and age.

Palliative Treatment for Mesothelioma

Palliative treatment is focused on managing pain and symptoms of mesothelioma. It does NOT mean that your mesothelioma doctor has stopped treating your cancer to hopefully put it into remission. But your pain can be treated concurrently with traditional treatments, so you are more comfortable.

The goal of these pain management options, including surgery, radiation, chemotherapy and drugs, is to relieve your pain. These once were only given to terminal patients, but studies show that patients with ‘incurable’ mesothelioma have better results if pain management treatments are offered. (

Some of the symptoms of asbestos cancer that can be improved by pain management treatments include:

  • Pain
  • Weakness
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Reduced appetite
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • General feeling of poor well-being

Palliative treatments do not attack your cancer, but they can make you live longer and more comfortably.

Pleural Mesothelioma Pain Management Options

If you are not a candidate for surgery, there are several treatment options to reduce your pain. Pleural mesothelioma usually has symptoms such as constant coughing, chest pain, and difficulty taking a breath. These symptoms are caused by tumors pushing on your organs. They also are due to a buildup of fluid around the lungs call pleural effusion.


If you are a candidate, two treatments for pleural effusion are pleurodesis and thoracentesis. Both surgeries draw fluid via a tube and relieve pressure on your lungs so you can breathe better. Pleurodesis also reduces the space where the fluid can build up. It inserts a talc-like powder to seal the space between your lungs and the chest wall and offers a more long-term solution to the problem.

After one of these operations, you should be able to breathe better and your cough should improve. In one clinical study, 92% of people with pleural effusion had relief from shortness of breath after pleurodesis that used talc to seal the space.


Chemotherapy is used to treat cancer, but it also can be used to manage pain. It can be used to reduce the size of tumors, which can lead to a reduction of symptoms, such as difficulty breathing and chest pain.

However, chemotherapy has side effects that many find unpleasant, such as nausea, fatigue, vomiting and hair loss. But doctors still may utilize chemotherapy to reduce the more severe symptoms mentioned above. It also can be used before surgery to reduce the size of tumors, and after surgery to kill any remaining cancer cells.

After you are diagnosed with pleural mesothelioma, your doctor will most often prescribe you pemetrexed and cisplatin. These drugs have been proven to kill mesothelioma cells, relieve cancer symptoms, and enhance quality of life. Many cancer patients also live months or years longer with chemotherapy.

Radiation Therapy

This palliative treatment can be combined with chemotherapy and surgery to reduce the size of tumors. When it is used by itself, it can shrink cancerous tumors that are growing into the chest wall to reduce chest pain. While there are side effects to radiation therapy, sometimes the benefits of radiation outweigh the risks. The side effects include skin irritations, fatigue, and pulmonary toxicity.


Pain drugs are usually the first option to manage mesothelioma pain. Your physician will recommend the type and amount of pain drugs depending on your type of cancer and the degree of pain. If you are having only mild discomfort, your doctor may tell you to take over-the-counter drugs such as ibuprofen. OTC drugs can help with mild muscle and bone discomfort and general aches.

If you have more severe pain, you may be given opioids. Morphine, oxycodone, or tramadol are stronger and can relieve your intense or chronic pain.

It is important to fully understand the instructions before you take a new pain drug.

Pain Management Options for Peritoneal Mesothelioma

Approximately 60% of peritoneal mesothelioma patients cannot have surgery. Doctors may recommend a treatment that reduces symptoms, lowers pain, and improves your quality of life while avoiding the difficult recovery that is needed after surgery.

The procedure to reduce pain is called a paracentesis. This operation removes fluid that is collecting in the abdominal cavity, which is called ascites. The treatment can reduce pain and relieve complications involving the bowels, kidneys, and other parts of the digestive tract.

The best pain management option for people who can tolerate surgery is cytoreductive surgery with heated chemotherapy in the abdomen. This is a highly invasive procedure, but it is often used to manage pain.

Cytoreductive surgery involves the removal of part of the tumor. This is done when not all of the tumor can be taken out. After the surgery, heated chemotherapy is used in the abdomen to kill as much of the remaining tumor as possible.

Using chemotherapy after surgery is often successful, but it is not always considered palliative because of side effects. Radiation is not usually used on people with peritoneal mesothelioma.

The bottom line is there is hope to manage your mesothelioma pain. It is important to talk to your doctor about your pain symptoms and how it is affecting your quality of life. At that point, your doctor can recommend the right pain management tool for you.

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