Private hospitals and clinic now offer a range of cancer treatments, even for relatively rare types of cancer such as mesothelioma. This is a form of cancer that affects the mesothelium – a thin membrane that lines the inner surface of the chest wall (where it is known as pleural mesothelioma) and abdomen (where it is termed peritoneal mesothelioma). Although mesothelioma is generally quite rare, pleural mesothelioma is the most common type, occurring approximately 12 times more often than peritoneal mesothelioma. Both forms are slow growing and can take 50 years to develop after exposure to asbestos, the main risk factor. As yet there is no cure, but there are various mesothelioma treatments that can extend life and that can improve quality of life.
This article on private mesothelioma treatment is by Kathryn Senior, a freelance journalist who writes health, medical, biological, and pharmaceutical articles for national and international journals, newsletters and web sites.
What causes mesothelioma?
Mesothelioma is almost always a result of exposure to asbestos. It can be caused by both short- and long-term exposure to asbestos, affecting people who have worked regularly with asbestos as well as those who live near to asbestos factories, and even the women who have washed the clothes of husbands or sons who’ve worked with asbestos.
What are the symptoms?
One of the early signs of mesothelioma is a build-up of fluid around the lungs or in the abdomen. This is called effusion and it can lead to pain, bloating or shortness of breath. Other symptoms can include fatigue, coughing and a loss of appetite, which tends to lead to weight loss.
People with untreated mesothelioma may live an average of around a year but with aggressive treatment using several agents, up to 50% of patients can survive for five or more years. The sooner treatment is begun, the better the outcome and private treatment can offer shorter waiting times and faster, better access to newer treatments.
How is it treated?
Mesothelioma treatments are usually based around symptom control, radiotherapy, chemotherapy and surgery. It is possible to opt for one type of treatment of a combination of treatments. Your therapy will depend on the type of mesothelioma you have and the stage of the disease, as well as your general health and fitness and personal preferences. Your consultation with a private consultant who specialises in mesothelioma treatment will involve a review of what is available and what is recommended in your particular case.
- Symptom control – removing fluid from the pleural space can help to relieve breathlessness. Pain can usually be successfully controlled using paracetamol, ibuprofen or morphine.
- Radiotherapy – the use of high-energy radiation to kill cancer cells – can be used to reduce the size of the tumour, relieving pain or discomfort, as well as helping to prevent the mesothelioma from spreading following a biopsy or surgery. Radiotherapy treatment for mesothelioma can also be used to treat large areas, such as the whole chest, to kill cancer cells over a wide area.
- Chemotherapy – the use of cytotoxic drugs to destroy cancer cells – can be used to attempt to shrink the mesothelioma and relieve some of the symptoms. Chemotherapy can also be given in combination with surgery to inhibit the recurrence of the cancer cells (adjuvant treatment). However, there is currently no consensus on if and when to use chemotherapy in the treatment of mesothelioma. An expert private consultant will provide you with the best advice available, and will be aware of any new published research that can help.
- Surgery – an initial operation is often done to confirm a diagnosis of mesothelioma, to assess the stage of the tumour and to control symptoms. More radical surgery is done with the intention of removing the entire visible tumour. However, radical surgery is only appropriate in a small number of cases where the disease is in the early stages. In other cases, palliative surgery can be helpful in controlling symptoms.
Specialist private care
The availability of radical and palliative surgery for malignant pleural mesothelioma varies throughout the UK, since not all thoracic surgeons have the breadth of experience necessary. As a result, a referral to a specialist centre may be necessary and you may have to travel away from home, possibly to London, to find the best available private care for some of your mesothelioma treatments.
In people with early-stage mesothelioma and good general health, multimodality therapy – a combination of chemotherapy, radical surgery and radiotherapy – can be used. This has been shown to extend survival to five years or more in up to 50% of people. Newer therapies and treatments not yet licensed specifically for mesothelioma can be used ‘off label’ and can be included in your private treatment more easily than if you have treatment within the NHS.
Emotional support in the private sector
Whatever stage of your mesothelioma treatment, it is important to get as much emotional support as possible. Staff in private facilities tend to have more time to listen and provide reassurance than the overworked doctors and nurses in the NHS. Private hospitals and clinics can also arrange for counselling or alternative, relaxing therapies for you if you feel it would help.