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How is mesothelioma treated?

On this page, we explain how mesothelioma is treated and the different treatment options that might be available to you. We cover what to expect from treatment, the four main types and information on clinical trials.

If you live in England, your hospital should aim to start your treatment within one month of diagnosis. If you live in the rest of the UK, treatment should start within one month of your decision to treat. This should be within two months of your original urgent referral.

In some cases, it can take longer to diagnose or treat your condition. Waiting for test results can be frustrating and upsetting. Remember that it’s important to get the right treatment, as well as getting it quickly.

What is the outlook for mesothelioma?

Although there have been advances in the treatment of mesothelioma, the outlook for mesothelioma tends to be poor. Treatments are usually aimed at easing your symptoms and improving your quality of life, as well as trying to prolong your life. Your specialist doctor or nurse can talk to you about your outlook in more detail, but it’s not always possible to be totally accurate.

Everyone is different and a person’s individual outlook will depend on their age, other medical problems and the stage of their tumour. Sadly, because mesothelioma is often diagnosed at an advanced stage, only about 5%-10% of people live for five years or more after diagnosis. However, there is a small group of people who have tumours that are particularly slow growing. These people can live for longer, often up to 10 years or more.

We set up a mesothelioma research network (MRN) to bring together researchers working on mesothelioma. The MRN helps researchers share ideas and support each other, to get better results faster. Find out more about our research into mesothelioma.

Choosing the best treatment

Once you’ve been diagnosed with mesothelioma, the members of your care team will study your case to consider what treatment to recommend. The choices will depend on your symptoms, age and general health.

Unlike some types of cancer, there’s not a clear medical agreement about treatment for mesothelioma. You’ll be offered the treatment that seems best for you. With any treatment, you have to balance the risks and side effects with the possible benefits. You might want to talk to your family or your specialist cancer nurse before making a decision. Your doctor and nurse will be able to discuss the options in detail with you and will respect your views at every step. Find out more about the support that’s available to you.

The four main types of treatment for mesothelioma are:

You may also be offered treatment for pleural effusion.

Clinical trials

There’s still a lack of evidence about the best treatments for mesothelioma. You might be invited to take part in a medical study, also called a clinical trial, to investigate new treatments. 

As well as trials looking into the role of surgery in mesothelioma, there are a large number of clinical trials looking into new drug treatments. This includes assessing the role of immunotherapy that has been very successful in other cancers. 

It’s not an option for everyone, but if you want to know more ask your doctor or nurse. If you decide not to join a clinical trial, you will still receive the best possible care. You can also leave a clinical trial at any time if you change your mind.

You might also be asked to donate a sample of your tumour to help future research into mesothelioma. This is a choice – you don’t have to say yes. You might wish to discuss this with your family and your health care team before you decide.

Cancer Research UK has a database of clinical trials you can search for online.

If it helps you, ask questions, do your own research and challenge things being told to you. But if you’d prefer to go along with the advice and decisions being made for you, that’s fine too. I appreciate now one of the most important things to do after diagnosis is to make use of the services available to you. Engage with the mesothelioma nurse for your area – they’re a vital source of support to help make this journey less difficult.Sandra

Read Sandra’s experience of living with mesothelioma

Download our mesothelioma information (PDF, 166KB)

We use your comments to improve our information. We cannot reply to comments left on this form. If you have health concerns or need clinical advice, call our helpline on 03000 030 555 between 9am and 5pm on a weekday or email them.

Last medically reviewed: November 2020. Due for review: November 2023

This information uses the best available medical evidence and was produced with the support of people living with lung conditions. Find out how we produce our information. If you’d like to see our references get in touch.