Palliative Care for Mesothelioma

Quick Summary

Palliative care provides patients with an improved quality of life that is distinctively different from end of life care, as some may get the two confused. Speaking with a medical professional is critical to making sure the best methods and techniques are used to make life more manageable for patients, caretakers, family, and friends.

Palliative Therapy Overview

Mesothelioma is incurable at this point, and the severe side effects from standard treatments can affect patient quality of life.

Palliative care includes:

  • Improved quality of life
  • Support for patients and affected family members
  • Support for caretakers
  • Reduced symptoms
  • Pain management
  • Symptom management

What is Palliative Therapy?

Palliative therapy is largely about pain management for patients undergoing treatments or dealing with the mesothelioma symptoms and often includes:

  • Various therapies
  • Medications
  • Treatments (chemotherapy, radiation therapy, surgery)
  • Nutritional support
  • Emotional support
  • Relaxation techniques
  • Spiritual support

Often, “hospice care” and “palliative care” are used in similar ways. It is important to understand the distinctions between the two. Palliative care is given at all stages of treatment and is used as an extra layer of support for patients. Hospice care is provided to patients with only six months or less life expectancy.

Goals of Palliative Therapy

Palliative care is focused on decreasing a patient’s pain levels and improving their life quality despite their diagnosis.

Whether palliative treatments require a care provider or not, it is important for patients to recognize and treat:

  • Anxiety and depression
  • Psychological disorders
  • Social and spiritual sources of distress
  • Counseling for patients and family
  • Advanced care planning
  • Grief and bereavement planning

Most doctors and specialists focus on pain management techniques and therapies for palliative care goals.

The primary goals of palliative therapy include:

  • Working with specialists and health care providers to improve treatments
  • Guiding treatment decisions based on the patient’s specific needs

Treating all symptoms, including:

  • Pain
  • Insomnia
  • Nausea
  • Physical issues
  • Breathlessness
  • Making sure all caregivers and patients understand their diagnosis and the goals of their specific treatments
  • Support for caregivers, family, and friends
  • Support for the patient’s social, emotional, practical, and spiritual needs or concerns

Types of Palliative Therapy for Mesothelioma

While treatment varies based on each patient’s mesothelioma stage, specialists will recommend the best options for increased chances of survival or life expectancy. Please consult your physicians for the best treatment options for you or your loved ones.


While surgery can’t cure mesothelioma, it can remove as much of the cancerous growth as possible or by excising the entire lung. In most cases, fluid buildup must be removed before other treatment options become possible.

These procedures include:

  • Pericardiocentesis: Drains the fluid build-up from the sac that lines the heart (pericardium) with a needle.
  • Paracentesis: Drains fluid build-up (ascites) with a needle from the abdomen.
  • Thoracentesis: Avoiding the protective sac around the lungs, a needle is used to drain the fluid build-up in the lungs.
  • Pleurodesis: Going directly into the protective sac around the lungs, a needle is used to remove the fluid build-up surrounding the lungs to limit more build ups.

When used for palliative care rather than early-stage treatment, surgery (debulking) can remove tumors and decrease certain symptoms like breathlessness. Some studies prove that debulking surgery can extend life expectancy by five years.

Any surgery for mesothelioma patients requires its own recovery time, which can be extensive. Patients should speak to their doctors to understand the details of each type of surgery before undergoing any surgical treatment.


Another factor in palliative care for surgery is combining it with certain types of chemotherapy during or after surgery to produce better results. Chemotherapy uses anti-cancer drugs delivered intravenously that travel through the bloodstream to destroy cancer cells.

The biggest benefits of undergoing chemotherapy entail:  

  • Shrinka cancerous tumors
  • Reduces the risk of tumors growing back after surgery
  • Prepares patients for other treatments
  • Relieves signs and symptoms of cancer cells

Treatment with chemotherapy can extend the life expectancy of patients.

Side effects chemotherapy may cause include:

  • Nausea
  • Weight loss
  • Loss of appetite
  • Easy bruising or bleeding
  • Exhaustion
  • Lower resistance to infections

Most side effects last a while after treatment. If you experience any problems with side effects, please contact your doctor or nurse immediately. Specialists and nurses that work with cancer patients are very familiar with side effects and know specific ways to mitigate and manage the inevitable side effects. If certain side effects become too severe, doctors can adjust chemo drug administration to improve a patient’s quality of life during treatment.


Radiation works to destroy the DNA of mesothelioma cells to prevent them being able to replicate or cause tumors to grow. Shrinking and preventing tumors can ease symptoms and reduce pain by taking stress off of the lungs, heart, and other affected areas.

Directing the radiation into the exact sections where mesothelioma is located prevents damaging any healthy tissue surrounding the cancerous growth. Arrowed directly into cancerous cells or tumors, radiation shrinks these growths and prevents them from growing into new tumors.

This type of radiation can work to directly increase the effectiveness of other treatments, which presents long-term benefits for the palliative care of patients in pain management and decreased symptoms.

Pain Management Options

Leaving pain unresolved can result in outcomes that agitate the mesothelioma or completely debilitate the patient. While everyone’s pain tolerance levels differ, 90% of cancer patients experience some degree of pain. Talk to your doctor to find the source of the pain and determine if it’s acute, intermittent, or chronic.

Keeping a “pain journal” may be useful for monitoring pain levels and helping your doctor assess the best treatment option based on symptoms and pain levels.

Important things to track in a pain journal entail:

  • Medications, treatments, and other care.
  • Location of the pain.
  • Frequency, whether the pain occurs often or sporadically.
  • Intensity of the pain

Pain management will vary based on the patient, treatments, and recommendations of specialists.

Most pain management solutions include:

  • Physical adjustment
  • Drug administration
  • Pain clinic treatment
  • Coping strategies
  • Complementary and alternative therapy

It’s important to consult with your specialist about pain management options for the best solution based on your health levels, treatment combinations, and medical history to avoid mixing methods that may be detrimental to your quality of life.

View Author and Sources

  1. ASCO Cancer.Net, “Caring for the Symptoms of Cancer and its Treatment.” Retrieved from: Accessed on January 30, 2018.
  2. ScienceDirect, “Palliative Care for the Patient with Mesothelioma.” Retrieved from: Accessed on January 30, 2018.
  3. Cancer Research UK, “Chemotherapy for Plueral Mesothelioma.” Retrieved from: Accessed January 30, 2018.
  4. Cancer Research UK, “Surgery for Peritoneal Mesothelioma.” Retrieved from: Accessed January 30, 2018.
  5. Cancer Research UK, “Surgery for Pleural Mesothelioma.” Retrieved from: Accessed January 30, 2018.
  6. Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance, “Mesothelioma Radiation.” Retrieved from: Accessed January 30, 2018.
  7. Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance, “Pain Management and Dependency.” Retrieved from: Accessed January 30, 2018.

Last modified: March 2, 2018