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Malignant Mesothelioma Treatment (PDQ®)

Health Professional Version

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.) Trimodality therapy refers to a combination of chemotherapy, definitive surgery, and radiation therapy. Because of the rarity of mesothelioma and the complexities of patient selection, surgical technique, and optimal sequencing of therapy, delivery of such therapy in centers with medical personnel who have established experience and expertise in the management of mesothelioma has shown better results. Operative mortality from pleurectomy with decortication is less than 2%,[2] while mortality from extrapleural pneumonectomy has ranged from 6% to 30%.[1,3]

Several single-arm, phase II studies have demonstrated prolonged survival times (compared with historic controls) for selected patients who received adjuvant radiation therapy after definitive surgery.[2,4,5] The use of radiation therapy in pleural mesothelioma has also been shown to alleviate pain in the majority of patients treated; however, the duration of symptom control is short-lived.[6,7] Other single-arm, phase II studies investigated neoadjuvant chemotherapy (mainly with platinum and pemetrexed or gemcitabine) followed by definitive surgery followed by adjuvant radiation.[8-10] These studies have also shown prolonged survival compared with historical controls; however, this advantage has yet to be confirmed in a randomized study.


  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. Rusch VW, Rosenzweig K, Venkatraman E, et al.: A phase II trial of surgical resection and adjuvant high-dose hemithoracic radiation for malignant pleural mesothelioma. J Thorac Cardiovasc Surg 122 (4): 788-95, 2001. [PUBMED Abstract]
  5. Batirel HF, Metintas M, Caglar HB, et al.: Trimodality treatment of malignant pleural mesothelioma. J Thorac Oncol 3 (5): 499-504, 2008. [PUBMED Abstract]
  6. 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]
  7. 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]
  8. Krug LM, Pass HI, Rusch VW, et al.: Multicenter phase II trial of neoadjuvant pemetrexed plus cisplatin followed by extrapleural pneumonectomy and radiation for malignant pleural mesothelioma. J Clin Oncol 27 (18): 3007-13, 2009. [PUBMED Abstract]
  9. Flores RM, Krug LM, Rosenzweig KE, et al.: Induction chemotherapy, extrapleural pneumonectomy, and postoperative high-dose radiotherapy for locally advanced malignant pleural mesothelioma: a phase II trial. J Thorac Oncol 1 (4): 289-95, 2006. [PUBMED Abstract]
  10. Weder W, Kestenholz P, Taverna C, et al.: Neoadjuvant chemotherapy followed by extrapleural pneumonectomy in malignant pleural mesothelioma. J Clin Oncol 22 (17): 3451-7, 2004. [PUBMED Abstract]
  • Updated: August 15, 2014