One of the most important things that a mesothelioma patient can do is to find the right physician to treat their disease. Mesothelioma specialists are experienced in the diagnosis and treatment of this rare type of cancer.
What Are Mesothelioma Specialists?
Mesothelioma is very rare type of cancer, with only 3,000 cases diagnosed each year. Because it is so rare, most physicians do not have experience in treating the disease. Mesothelioma specialists are physicians who have focused a portion of their medical practice specifically on the diagnosis and treatment of mesothelioma.
Why is a Mesothelioma Specialist Important?
Mesothelioma is an aggressive, malignant cancer which presents difficulties in identification, diagnosis and treatment. Because it is so rare, most physicians will not have the knowledge and expertise required to provide effective treatment. Mesothelioma specialists offer patients skill, experience and access to advanced care.
Skill – Mesothelioma is a challenging disease to treat. It takes specialized skill to identify and correctly confirm diagnosis of each type of mesothelioma based on location, cellular identification and stage of disease.
Experience – While most physicians have not ever treated mesothelioma, physicians who specialize in this type of cancer. They treat multiple patients every year, giving them experience at treating the rare and aggressive cancer.
Access – Mesothelioma was not widely recognized until asbestos was clearly identified as a harmful agent. Most mesothelioma treatments have been adopted from treatment of other types of cancer, but many patients benefit from newer methods. Mesothelioma specialists will have access to newer, more advanced treatment methods which may only be available as part of an investigational study.
What Type of Experience is Needed?
Mesothelioma is a complex disease which can vary highly from patient to patient. An ideal mesothelioma specialist will have experience that matches each characteristic of a patient’s particular disease. Factors that should be considered include:
· Mesothelioma Type
Mesothelioma may affect the lungs, abdomen, heart or testicles. Each type of mesothelioma may be treated differently and not all physicians will be experienced with all location types of mesothelioma. Whether the diagnosis is pleural, peritoneal or another type of mesothelioma, the specialist chosen should have experience in treating that particular type.
· Stage of Mesothelioma
Mesothelioma is an aggressive, malignant cancer which progresses from localized tumor(s) at Stage I to metastatic cancer at Stage IV. Treatment options will vary, based on the stage of cancer and the right mesothelioma specialist will have experience that matches the patient’s cancer progression.
· Type of Care
Depending on the location of tumors, cell type, stage of disease and general health of the patient, treatment options may be curative or palliative. Curative treatments seek to increase life expectancy and reduce disease progression while palliative treatments seek to reduce symptom severity and pain, while improving patient comfort and quality of life. Some mesothelioma specialists have more experience in one type of care over another.
· Treatment Specialties
The treatment of mesothelioma can involve different procedure types, each of which may require a different type of physician. Treatment options may include radiation therapy from an oncological radiologist, surgery from an oncological surgeon, and chemotherapy or newer medications from a medical oncologist. The ideal mesothelioma specialist will have experience in the appropriate treatment type and will be able to coordinate care with other physicians.
· Research Affiliation
One major advantage that mesothelioma specialists may provide is access to new and emerging treatment methods. Many mesothelioma specialists participate in the conduct of clinical studies which investigate new treatment methods, procedures and medications. Choosing a mesothelioma specialist with academic or institutional access to research may provide patients with better treatment options.
· Multi-disciplinary Methods
Mesothelioma treatment often requires more than one physician. It is best that the mesothelioma specialist work with a team of health care professionals who all have experience in treating this rare type of cancer. This involves the inclusion of other specialist physicians, but also allied health professionals such as nurses, therapists and technicians from a number of disciplines.
· Surgical Experience
In many cases, the most effective curative treatment option for mesothelioma is surgery. Not all qualified mesothelioma specialists are surgeons but they should be well versed in surgical methods for mesothelioma.
· Length of Practice
Mesothelioma treatment is one case where the number of years a specialist has in practice may have a big impact. Mesothelioma is a complex disorder that is difficult to identify and challenging to treat. The longer a physician has been treating the disease, the more valuable their experience will be.
Mesothelioma is a progressive cancer which becomes more advanced over time. Even within the mesothelioma diagnosis, there are multiple types, varying cell types and different stages and though treatment is chosen with those specifics in mind, the disease may present unpredictable changes. This requires careful monitoring and a willingness to make adjustments and changes to treatment plans as needed.
· Bedside Manner
Whether or not a physician provides personal attention is not always a consideration when seeking medical treatment. In the case of a serious cancer like mesothelioma, the patient’s confidence in the physician can have an impact on the success of treatment. Patients should feel certain that the mesothelioma specialist has developed an appropriate treatment plan and should have a level of personal trust in the physician.
Mesothelioma treatment can be time consuming. Like other cancer treatments, multiple sessions over a period of weeks may be required for each treatment period. There are only a small number of mesothelioma cancer centers, spread throughout the country and the requirement for travel may be a consideration. Some mesothelioma treatment centers may be able to assist with lodging for patients and family members when extended stays are needed.
Mesothelioma treatment is costly and certain insurance policies may not cover treatment at a particular cancer center. Finding a mesothelioma specialist and cancer center that accepts the patient’s insurance is essential and new regulations enacted as part of the Affordable Care Act may have an impact on insurance coverage. In cases where insurance coverage is not accepted, some specialists and treatment centers may be able to provide financial assistance or payment options. Enrollment in clinical studies may also help to defray some costs.
Investigational Studies and Clinical Trials
Mesothelioma treatment is still in development and much of this research is performed by mesothelioma specialists. Many patients may benefit from new treatment options which are only available as part of a clinical trial or investigational study. This is one reason why a mesothelioma specialist may be critical to effective treatment.
American Cancer Society, (18 May 2015), What is Mesothelioma?, ACS Cancer.org, Accessed on 26 January 2016 http://www.cancer.org/cancer/malignantmesothelioma/detailedguide/malignant-mesothelioma-malignant-mesothelioma
Mesothelioma Applied Research Foundation, (2013), What is Mesothelioma?, MARF CureMeso.org, Accessed on 26 January 2016 http://www.curemeso.org/site/c.duIWJfNQKiL8G/b.8578801/k.639A/What_is_Mesothelioma.htm