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Treatment Side Effects

Mesothelioma patients who are undergoing treatment can attest to the associated adverse effects. While asbestos cancer itself causes pain and other problems, the necessary treatments may equally cause unwanted secondary effects.

Mesothelioma patients who are undergoing treatment can attest to the associated adverse effects. While asbestos cancer itself causes pain and other problems, the necessary treatments may equally cause unwanted secondary effects.

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The three main types of treatment are surgery, chemotherapy and radiation. These treatments are aimed at shrinking or eliminating cancerous cells and tumors. Since asbestos-related cancer is not curable, these treatments and others are used to alleviate the painful symptoms with an eye on remission.

What kind of side effects can I expect?

The type of side effect depends on the type of treatment:

  • Surgery - Asbestos-cancer surgery is important in some cases to remove or reduce tumors. In some cases, major organs are removed and in other cases the tumors are simply reduced. Of all of the types of surgeries used to treat mesothelioma, the extrapleural pneumonectomy is considered the most radical. In this, the entire damaged lung, pleura and visible tumors are removed. Side effects include pain at the incision site, lung infection, a lung air leak and breathing problems. In the less radical lung-sparing surgery, complications include pain, swelling, bleeding, drainage at the incision site, excess fatigue and blood clots. Some patients have also suffered from cardiac problems, including irregular heartbeat and heart inflammation.
  • Chemotherapy - Some of the most common side effects of chemotherapy are the hallmarks of cancer treatment:Hair loss - Chemotherapy is a drug that kills rapidly dividing cells, even if they are healthy cells. The drug not only targets cancerous cells but also normal body cells like hair follicles and bone marrow.
    • Fatigue - Up to 96 percent of chemotherapy patients report feeling exhausted. Those with mild fatigue can manage it through getting more rest and light exercise.
    • Nausea and vomiting - Up to 80 percent of patients start feeling nauseous immediately after the medication is administered. The feeling could last for up to a week. Doctors are able to control nausea with some common medications.
    • Mouth sores - Chemotherapy drugs are known to cause mouth sores and problems with teeth and gums. Patients may find it hard to chew and swallow during treatment.
    • Constipation and diarrhea - This may occur as the drug irritates the lining of the gastrointestinal system. This can be managed with common medications.
    • Blood cell problems - A drop in white blood cells is the most common of all of the blood-related side effects. This means patients are more susceptible to developing infections. Platelet and red blood cell problems can also occur.
  • Radiation - Radiation uses beams of high-energy energy to kill cancerous cells or tumors. When these powerful rays pass through tissue, they can cause pain and injuries. The most common side effects from asbestos-related cancers, both pleural and peritoneal, include difficulty swallowing, shortness of breath, cough, diarrhea and nausea/vomiting. Often, the side effects are temporary. In addition, there are more general side effects that can be expected:
    • Skin problems - Radiation irritation, commonly called radiodermatitis, closely resembles problems associated with sunburn. This includes redness, peeling and skin tightening.
    • Bladder inflammation - Patients who are undergoing abdominal radiation, including peritoneal mesothelioma patients, are at a higher risk for bladder irritations. Radiation may upset the normal cycle of the bladder, creating a bladder inflammation. Doctors can prescribe antibiotics to reduce the inflammation risk.
    • Nausea/vomiting - While radiation patients are less likely to undergo nausea and vomiting, they are still at risk. This side effect is most common in peritoneal mesothelioma patients because the radiation treatment is directed toward the gastrointestinal tract. Anti-nausea medications are often prescribed to alleviate the symptoms.
    • Rare complications - In some cases, pleural mesothelioma patients develop scar tissue on the lungs as a result of direct radiation. This is also thought to cause inflammation of the lungs and heart lining.


National Cancer Institute. Radiation Side Effects. Retrieved from http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/coping/radiation-therapy-and-you/page6

Penn Medicine. “Photodynamic Therapy Added to Lung-Sparing Surgery Improves Survival for Mesothelioma Patients.” Retrieved from http://www.uphs.upenn.edu/news/News_Releases/2012/05/therapy/