Chemotherapy for pleural mesothelioma

Chemotherapy treats cancer using drugs known as cytotoxics. It aims to destroy cancer cells while causing the least possible damage to healthy cells.

The main chemotherapy drugs for pleural mesothelioma are pemetrexed in combination with cisplatin or carboplatin. Research shows this combination can increase survival by a few months more than using a single drug. However, chemotherapy doesn’t work for some people.

Chemotherapy is usually administered into a vein through a drip (intravenously). The drugs travel through the bloodstream and reach the entire body. This is known as systemic chemotherapy.

You will usually have chemotherapy during day visits to your hospital or treatment centre. Each session may last for several hours followed by a rest period of several weeks. Together, the session and rest period are called a cycle. You will probably have up to six cycles. However, the length and timing of the treatment and rest days of each cycle may vary.


Side effects of chemotherapy

People react to chemotherapy drugs differently. Some people will have few side effects, while others will have more.

The most common side effects of chemotherapy include:

  • tiredness and feeling weak (fatigue)
  • nausea and/or vomiting
  • bowel problems (diarrhoea or constipation related to anti-nausea drugs)
  • sore or dry mouth, or small ulcers in the mouth
  • taste changes and/or loss of appetite
  • increased risk of infection (low level of white blood cells) and anaemia (low level of red blood cells)
  • reduced kidney function
  • ringing in the ears (tinnitus)
  • skin changes
  • numb or tingling hands or feet
  • red and itchy eyes (conjunctivitis).
Your risk of infection increases during chemotherapy treatment. If you have a temperature over 38°C, contact your doctor immediately or go to your nearest hospital emergency department.

While hair loss and scalp problems are rare with chemotherapy for mesothelioma, there may be hair thinning. Some people have trouble thinking clearly or experience short-term memory loss after chemotherapy, but this usually improves once treatment ends.

Side effects depend on the type and dose of chemotherapy drugs. Your specialist may prescribe vitamin B12 injections and low-dose folic acid, which have been shown to reduce the side effects of chemotherapy with pemetrexed and cisplatin. You will also be given medicines (such as anti-nausea medicine) to help control any side effects that are likely to occur. If side effects become too difficult to manage, your oncologist can adjust the dose or type of chemotherapy.

Call Cancer Council 13 11 20 for a free copy of Understanding Chemotherapy, download a digital copy from this page, or see Chemotherapy.

Listen to a podcast on Making Treatment Decisions or New Cancer Treatments.


This information was last reviewed in May 2017
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