Mesothelioma

The Mesothelioma and Thoracic Oncology Treatment and Research Center at the University of Maryland Marlene and Stewart Greenebaum Cancer Center is one of the pioneering institutions nationally using a finely tuned multidisciplinary approach for the treatment of malignant mesothelioma and other asbestos-related diseases. Led by Dr. Joseph Friedberg, an international expert in thoracic oncology, the center provides mesothelioma treatment that is comprehensive, multidisciplinary and patient-centered. The center's experts specialize in treating both pleural (lung) and peritoneal (abdomen) mesothelioma.

The center is one of very few in the world to have dedicated mesothelioma experts in several cancer disciplines, including:


With our multidisciplinary care program, patients can often meet all of the team members in one visit. Treatment with medical, surgical and radiation oncologists is coordinated through one specialized nurse. Communication is maximized, and patient stress and inconvenience is minimized. This "one-stop shopping" approach has been found to be the best way to tackle the complex care for this difficult disease.

Mesothelioma

Malignant mesothelioma, an uncommon form of cancer, is a disease in which cancer (malignant) cells are found in the sac lining the lung and chest cavity (the pleura), abdomen (the peritoneum) and the heart (the pericardium). A layer of specialized cells called mesothelial cells lines these cavities, forming tissue called mesothelium. Tumors of the meothelium can be benign (noncancerous) or malignant (cancerous). Most mesothelial tumors are cancerous; therefore, malignant mesothelioma is often simply called mesothelioma.

Pleural Mesothelioma

Pleural mesothelioma is a malignant mesothelioma that spreads within the chest cavity and sometimes involves the lung.

Asbestos exposure is the most common risk factor associated with mesothelioma. Asbestos refers to a family of magnesium-silicate mineral fibers that have been commonly used for insulation and in the shipbuilding and construction industries. A history of asbestos exposure is found in 80 percent of patients who present with mesothelioma. Other factors, which may promote mesothelioma, include: chronic lung infections, tuberculous pleuritis, radiation (Thorotrast) and exposure to the simian virus 40 (SV40) or mineral fibers (Zeolite). Although tobacco smoking has not been associated with the development of mesotheliomas, the combination of smoking and asbestos exposure greatly increases the risk of lung cancer.

  • In the United States, 2,000-3,000 patients are diagnosed with malignant pleural mesothelioma each year.
  • Mesothelioma affects men more frequently than women and is more common in white Americans.
  • The median age of onset of symptoms is 70.
  • Seven percent of workers exposed to asbestos become affected.
  • The latent period between exposure to asbestos and the onset of symptoms can be 20-40 years.
  • The median survival time is between 4-12 months, depending on the stage of presentation. The three-year survival is 10 percent and the overall five-year survival is approximately 5 percent.

The severity of the condition varies from person to person, but in most cases the onset of mesothelioma is usually very slow with the most common presenting symptom being persistent pain localized in the chest. Sometimes the pain is accompanied by severe difficulty in breathing or shortness of breath. Cough, weight loss, fever and night sweats are less common.

Testing

At the University of Maryland Medical Center, a thorough radiologic evaluation is performed to determine diagnosis. The evaluation is used to determine the stage of the tumor and to help doctors plan a course of treatment. Testing may include: 

Treatment Options

The University of Maryland Thoracic Oncology Program has treatment plans that will be tailored to the patient’s extent and Mesothelioma cell type.  There are three primary treatment options and may include:

1. Tri-modality Therapy

The unique multidisciplinary approach offered at the Mesothelioma and Thoracic Oncology Treatment and research center involves surgery, chemotherapy and radiation therapy.  Although a cure is not common in this disease, this treatment option has been successful in slowing the progression of the disease and also helping relieve symptoms. 

Current literature states that a single (or bi-modality) therapy for treatment has not proven successful in improving survival rates, and most treatment attempts are usually unsuccessful in curing the disease. 

Here at the University of Maryland we provide an extended pleurectomy-decortication which is a lung-sparing procedure in hopes of preserving as much Quality and Quantity of life.  

2. Chemotherapy Options

For more information, please visit Medical Oncology

For a listing of the current mesothelioma-related clinical trials open at the University of Maryland Greenebaum Cancer Center, please visit UMGCC Clinical Trials.

3. Radiation Therapy

Radiation therapy directed to the area involved may alleviate some pain associated with malignant mesothelioma.

For more information, please visit Radiation Therapy.

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