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Chemotherapy for Mesothelioma

Pemetrexed (Alimta), Cisplatin, Onconase, Bevacizumab (Avastin), Endostatin, and more

FDA Approves Alimta - Cisplatin Combination for Treatment of Asbestos-Related Cancer Mesothelioma

Questions and Answers on Alimta

Chemotherapy treats cancer with drugs that destroy cancer cells. It may be used to shrink a tumor before surgery (neo-adjuvant therapy), to help destroy cancer cells that may remain after surgery (adjuvant chemotherapy), to make radiation therapy or immunotherapy work more effectively, or to help destroy cancer that recurs or has spread from the site of the original tumor. It may also be used as a stand-alone treatment in cases where the patient is not a surgical candidate.

Major research is happening in the field of chemotherapy for mesothelioma patients. In addition to standby drugs such as cisplatin, gemcitabine, alimta, and anti-angiogenesis agents such as bevacizumab and endostatin are being vigorously pursued by researchers. Ranpirnase (onconase) is also promising as is coramsine.

Chemotherapy drugs may be given as single agents, but often, two or more drugs are given simultaneously. This is called "combination therapy". Such is the case with the investigational drug, Alimta, (now in an expanded access program for mesothelioma patients), where it is combined with "standard" drugs such as cisplatin or gemcitabine.

When cancer occurs, abnormal cells in the body multiply out of control. Anticancer drugs destroy cancer cells by preventing them from multiplying. Unfortunately, healthy cells can also be harmed, and it is the damage to the healthy cells that may ultimately cause side effects. The cells most likely to be affected are the fast-growing normal cells such as the blood cells forming in bone marrow, and cells in the digestive tract which includes the mouth, stomach, intestines, and esophagus. Hair follicles may also be affected, hence, hair loss during chemotherapy. Some drugs affect cells of vital organs, such as the heart, kidney, bladder, lungs, and nervous system.

Before beginning a chemotherapy protocol, your doctor should discuss your specific treatment and the side effects most closely associated with the drugs you will be receiving.

Questions you may wish to ask about your treatment are:

  • How many treatments will I be given?
  • What drug or combination of drugs will I receive?
  • How will the drug/drugs be administered, i.e., pill, intravenous, etc.?
  • Where will I go for my treatment, i.e., doctor's office, hospital, etc.?
  • How long will each treatment last?

Questions you may wish to ask about side effects are:

  • What side effects are associated with the drug/drugs I will be given?
  • Which of these side effects are likely to occur?
  • What can I do to relieve these side effects?
  • Are there certain side effects I should report immediately?
  • How can I contact a health professional after hours if I need to call?

Once chemotherapy is completed, normal cells usually recover, so most side effects will gradually disappear after treatment ends. The amount of time it takes to get over side effects is dependent on many things, including your overall health and the type of chemotherapy you have been receiving.

Ask your doctor for more information about these medications. Contact us if you need more ideas about what to ask your doctor or to learn about clinical trials using these drugs. (See also chemotherapy glossary and mesothelioma glossary.) Also, see side effects of chemotherapy.

New chemotherapy agents and combinations of agents are generating improved results for mesothelioma patients. Read about new approaches in Malignant Mesothelioma: Focus on New Therapeutic Approaches, a summary of exciting new approaches in mesothelioma treatment. Also, read about types of chemotherapy.

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