How Chemotherapy Works
Cell division is a normal part of normal tissue function. Normal cells divide and proliferate according to a genetically controlled process. Cancer cells, on the other hand, are the result of mutations and do not behave as normal cells do. They divide rapidly and uncontrollably and group together to form tumors. Chemo drugs target rapidly-dividing cells. This includes not only cancer cells but also healthy cells, which is why chemotherapy produces side effects. But cancer cells divide with much greater frequency than most normal cells and are more likely to be affected by chemotherapy. Although different chemotherapies work in somewhat different ways, the drugs’ general mechanism of action involves damaging the genes of cancer cells, thus stopping them from dividing uncontrollably and shrinking tumors. Ideally, chemotherapy kills all cancer cells, but in the case of mesothelioma, it more often helps to temporarily control tumor growth. A newer class of chemotherapies known as targeted therapies hone in on specific molecules within cancer cells, rather than acting against all dividing cells. While targeted chemo drugs affect the body differently than standard chemo drugs, they can still produce side effects. Targeted therapies for mesothelioma are still in the developmental stages, but interested patients may be able to undergo treatment with them in a clinical trial.
The information presented below is intended to inform you about chemotherapy for malignant mesothelioma. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice. We can, however, put you in touch with the country’s top mesothelioma specialists.
Chemotherapy on its own is unlikely to completely eradicate mesothelioma, but chemo can slow the progression of mesothelioma, alleviate symptoms, and improve quality of life. This type of chemotherapy is known as palliative chemotherapy. Combined with surgery (either before or after a pleurectomy/decortication or extrapleural pneumonectomy) chemotherapy is potentially curative. In fact, some patients have been declared cancer free after surgery and chemotherapy, although this outcome is rare. The use of two or more of chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and surgery is called multimodal therapy. Specialists may recommended the use of all three treatments, or trimodal therapy.
Neoadjuvant and Adjuvant Chemotherapy
Neoadjuvant chemotherapy is chemotherapy given before surgery. Pre-surgical chemo can shrink mesothelioma tumors, treat cancer that has spread to the lymph nodes, and may permit less invasive surgery. Adjuvant chemotherapy is chemotherapy given after surgery. The goal of post-surgical chemo is to destroy cancer cells that the surgeon may have missed and prevent the cancer from coming back.