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Malignant Mesothelioma Treatment (PDQ®)

Health Professional Version
Last Modified: 03/07/2014

Treatment Option Overview

Standard treatment for all but localized mesothelioma is generally not curative. Although some patients will experience long-term survival with aggressive treatment approaches, it remains unclear if overall survival (OS) has been significantly altered by the different treatment modalities or by combinations of modalities. Extrapleural pneumonectomy in selected patients with early stage disease may improve recurrence-free survival, but its impact on OS is unknown.[1] Pleurectomy and decortication can provide palliative relief from symptomatic effusions, discomfort caused by tumor burden, and pain caused by invasive tumor. (Refer to the PDQ summary on Pain for more information.) Operative mortality from pleurectomy/decortication is less than 2%,[2] while mortality from extrapleural pneumonectomy has ranged from 6% to 30%.[1,3]

The addition of radiation therapy and/or chemotherapy following surgical intervention has not demonstrated improved survival.[2] The use of radiation therapy in pleural mesothelioma has been shown to alleviate pain in the majority of patients treated; however, the duration of symptom control is short-lived.[4,5] Single-agent and combination chemotherapy have been evaluated in single and combined modality studies. The most studied agent is doxorubicin, which has produced partial responses in approximately 15% to 20% of patients studied.[6] Some combination chemotherapy regimens have been reported to have higher response rates in small phase II trials; however, the toxic effects reported are also higher, and there is no evidence that combination regimens result in longer survival or longer control of symptoms.[6,7].

Recurrent pleural effusions may be treated with pleural sclerosing procedures; however, failure rates are usually secondary to the bulk of the tumor, which precludes pleural adhesion due to the inability of the lung to fully expand.

  1. Rusch VW, Piantadosi S, Holmes EC: The role of extrapleural pneumonectomy in malignant pleural mesothelioma. A Lung Cancer Study Group trial. J Thorac Cardiovasc Surg 102 (1): 1-9, 1991.  [PUBMED Abstract]

  2. Rusch V, Saltz L, Venkatraman E, et al.: A phase II trial of pleurectomy/decortication followed by intrapleural and systemic chemotherapy for malignant pleural mesothelioma. J Clin Oncol 12 (6): 1156-63, 1994.  [PUBMED Abstract]

  3. Sugarbaker DJ, Mentzer SJ, DeCamp M, et al.: Extrapleural pneumonectomy in the setting of a multimodality approach to malignant mesothelioma. Chest 103 (4 Suppl): 377S-381S, 1993.  [PUBMED Abstract]

  4. Bissett D, Macbeth FR, Cram I: The role of palliative radiotherapy in malignant mesothelioma. Clin Oncol (R Coll Radiol) 3 (6): 315-7, 1991.  [PUBMED Abstract]

  5. Ball DL, Cruickshank DG: The treatment of malignant mesothelioma of the pleura: review of a 5-year experience, with special reference to radiotherapy. Am J Clin Oncol 13 (1): 4-9, 1990.  [PUBMED Abstract]

  6. Weissmann LB, Antman KH: Incidence, presentation and promising new treatments for malignant mesothelioma. Oncology (Huntingt) 3 (1): 67-72; discussion 73-4, 77, 1989.  [PUBMED Abstract]

  7. Ong ST, Vogelzang NJ: Chemotherapy in malignant pleural mesothelioma. A review. J Clin Oncol 14 (3): 1007-17, 1996.  [PUBMED Abstract]