Mesothelioma Patients Could Benefit from Earlier Palliative Care

Mesothelioma survival averages eight to 12 months, many experts say. Others say it averages six to 18 months. Still others have different numbers entirely.

No matter who’s right, one thing you can probably count on as a mesothelioma patient is pain for some, most or all of the time you have this cancer.

The pain usually isn’t as intense in the early stages as it is in the later stages. For that reason, some mesothelioma doctors don’t begin giving what’s known as palliative care until those later stages.

Palliative care is treatment given usually at home by a visiting nurse or other healthcare professional. Palliative care is not given to stop mesothelioma. It’s given only to relieve mesothelioma symptoms.

The symptoms of mesothelioma are serious and usually unpleasant. There’s nonstop coughing, fatigue, nausea, weight loss and more. But topping that list is pain.

Researchers from Italy’s La Maddalena Cancer Center in Palermo and Casale Monferrato in Turin think that home palliative care should be started as soon as a patient is diagnosed with mesothelioma.

Early palliative care would go long way toward making mesothelioma patients more comfortable throughout their ordeal, they say. It would also help improve the overall quality of life for patients.

Mesothelioma Symptoms Before Palliative Care

The researchers laid out their argument in an article titled “Symptom Burden in Mesothelioma Patients Admitted to Home Palliative Care.” It was published in the online edition of the journal Current Medical Research and Opinion.

They wrote that “best supportive care should be considered critical to optimally manage [mesothelioma] patients.” And, in their opinion, best supportive care means early home palliative care.

The researchers explained that one aspect of their study involved looking at how bad the symptoms of mesothelioma had become for patients by the time they were started on home palliative care.

Another aspect involved looking at the epidemiology of those patients. Epidemiology is the study of how and why a disease affects people the way it does. The insights gained are then used to figure out ways to better manage people stricken by that disease.

For both aspects of this study, the researchers collected medical charts on 674 patients who received home palliative care.

Their review of these charts turned up 56 patients who had been diagnosed with mesothelioma. Those 56 patients accounted for 8.3 percent of the 674 total patients.

Mesothelioma Pain Is a Problem for Many Patients

The charts indicated that roughly 40 of the mesothelioma patients suffered pain at the time they entered home palliative care.

Eighteen were identified as having moderate pain. Two were identified as having severe pain. The remaining patients reported having mild pain. In all instances, the pain was mainly felt in the chest.

The researchers noted other serious symptoms. The most intense of these were (after pain) labored breathing, weakness, appetite loss and depression.

The burden these symptoms placed on the patients was calculated using the Edmonton Symptom Assessment System. This is a tool that doctors use to get a sense of how hard it is for a cancer patient to cope with symptoms of the disease.

The one finding that most troubled the researchers was the shortness of mesothelioma survival time after entering home palliative care. It was approximately two months.

However, the shortness was not due to anything wrong with the type and quality of care provided. It was simply a reflection of the fact that doctors waited until the late stages before enrolling patients in home palliative care.

The researchers concluded that doctors should not wait so long to do that. They argued that mesothelioma patients would be much better off if they could be started on home palliative care far earlier.