Minimizing Side-Effects When Receiving Adjuvant Therapy for Treatment of Mesothelioma
Mesothelioma is a rare, aggressive form of cancer primarily caused by exposure to airborne asbestos fibers. Close to 3,000 Americans are diagnosed with the cancer yearly with most cases of mesothelioma diagnosed 30 years or more after exposure. The latency period can be as long as 50 years. Although there is no cure for mesothelioma, it can be treated with varying degrees of success through the use of surgical procedures, chemotherapy and radiation.
Adjuvant chemotherapy is one treatment method used for mesothelioma where chemotherapy is prescribed after surgery to kill cancerous cells that remain once the tumor was removed. In some cases, the surgery will appear to have removed all of the cancerous tissues, but some will remain that are undetectable to the medical team. This is especially true for mesothelioma patients, because the diffuse nature of mesothelioma’s invasion pattern makes complete surgical extraction very difficult, if not impossible, to perform.
High risk patients, those that had a large tumor and the mesothelioma has spread or metastasized, may find that the benefits of chemotherapy as an adjuvant treatment outweigh the side-effects and can slow or halt the regrowth of cancer cells. The side-effects of chemotherapy are well known and often instill fear in patients causing them to reject the treatment. Improvements have been made in the new chemotherapy drugs, however, and this combined with some adjustments to diet and lifestyle can minimize the effects.
Heather Wakelee, MD, Assistant Professor, Department of Medicine, Division of Oncology, Stanford University, Stanford Cancer Center, says that adjuvant treatment is typically offered over a period of three months, approximately 8 treatments, and the toxicity level is not as high as neoadjuvant chemotherapy given prior to surgery.
Dr. Wakelee offers the following suggestions for managing your chemotherapy side-effects:
- Fatigue. While this is one of the biggest challenges of chemotherapy, it can be managed. Many patients want total rest due to the draining effect, but this can actually increase fatigue. Wakelee suggests patients get some form of exercise every day, walk around some, to help recover your energy.
- Low red blood cells or anemia. While blood transfusions are an option to improve this if the count gets too low, a change in diet can help you get the iron you need to raise the count. These foods are all high in iron: red meat, spinach, broccoli, beans, bran, tofu.
- Low white blood cells. Infection is a possibility with low white blood cell counts. Doctors are concerned about this in patients although it can be managed. Ways to avoid infection include avoiding raw fish, thoroughly washing fruits and vegetables, and washing your hands often.
- Nausea/vomiting. Significant improvements have been made in the medicines available to treat nausea, and many patients find they have little to no problems and can eat a normal diet. The patient may take medicines for several days after a treatment and should not be afraid of chemotherapy for this side effect. If there is a problem the doctor can use additional medicines.
- Hair loss. Some drugs do not cause hair loss, but they may not be the right drug for the patient. Once chemotherapy treatment is completed the hair often grows back quickly and thicker than before.
- Skin rash. This can happen although is not often severe. The use of topical lotions, and potentially with steroids, the rashes can be controlled.
Make sure to discuss your concerns and any side-effects you experience with your mesothelioma specialist so he can make any adjustments to your treatment to minimize any side-effects.