Since mesothelioma is a rare cancer, patients and their caregivers may not have access to as many resources as those suffering from more common ailments. A mesothelioma diagnosis can be devastating since most of these patients are given a short prognosis. However, the right kind of treatment and care can make a person with mesothelioma feel more comfortable and extend their lifespan, but it is not an easy road to go down without enough support.
Palliative care teams include a variety of professionals who help patients and their caregivers through medical, practical, emotional, and social support. Team members can include specialist physicians and nurses, nutritionists, chaplains, and social workers. Helping a loved one with mesothelioma can be overwhelming for a caregiver, and they can benefit from some of these services as well.
Caregivers can ask their physician for referrals to palliative health care providers if none are given. These services take place in medical facilities, outpatient clinics, specialized clinics, nursing homes, and in private homes. The costs may be covered by health insurance policies, the Department of Veterans Affairs, Medicare, or Medicaid.
In order to understand the importance of palliative care, it is important to learn about mesothelioma and its stages. This rare cancer is caused by asbestos exposure, and trades at risk include military veterans, construction and insultation workers, plumbers, auto mechanics, pipefitters, electricians, ship workers, and firefighters.
When asbestos fibers are released into the air, they can get caught in the abdominal cavity or the lining of the lungs. This can lead to inflammation and scarring of mesothelial cells, which can cause mesothelioma tumors to form. Although the disease may not present itself until many years after the first asbestos exposure, once it is detected, it progresses rapidly.
The initial symptoms may be flu-like, such as coughing and shortness of breath. Patients can also experience fever, weight loss, painful breathing, stomach or chest pain, digestive issues, and fluid buildup. If mesothelioma is suspected, it is wise to make a medical appointment as soon as possible. If warranted, the medical staff may want to perform X-rays, bloodwork, biopsies, and imaging scans.
Like other cancers, mesothelioma has different stages:
Palliative care can start soon after an initial diagnosis and be used in conjunction with treatment. Hospice care is end-of-life support after treatment has stopped and when it is clear that the patient will not survive. Both focus on comfort, but palliative care can help those with serious illnesses, like mesothelioma, feel better while they are undergoing treatment.
Mesothelioma patients may undergo surgery in the earlier stages because it is the fastest way to remove the tumors. Like any other type of surgery, there are risks involved. Chemotherapy is another kind of treatment and uses cancer-killing drugs. Chemotherapy is the most common treatment for the disease and can extend a patient’s lifespan.
Chemotherapy uses a combination of cancer-killing drugs that looks for fast-growing cells. It is the most popular treatment for mesothelioma. Chemotherapy on its own can extend survival by six to eight months. Radiation is also used in some cases, and it may lead to better results for some patients. Providers have reported good results using immunotherapy drugs as well.
Mesothelioma patients may also need to have fluid drained from the mesothelium, which helps the organs function. Palliative care can be administered alongside these treatments to help improve the patient’s quality of life.
Gaps in Palliative Medical Care
Many mesothelioma patients face uncertainty about their overall medical and palliative care. Some are unclear about managing their care and symptoms along with how their services will be coordinated and organized. They feel their providers may be not providing enough information, or they are concerned about their caregivers.
Patients and their families can benefit from better organization from their medical teams. Specifically, a named point of contact (POC) could provide open communication between all parties involved and reduce the amount of confusion.
Depending on the stage, patients may need little or a lot of help. As the cancer progresses, their needs will naturally increase. Caregivers and palliative care professionals can provide assistance with the following matters:
Talking about problems can help, but it is not always easy for people to open up about sensitive topics. However, doing so can provide a great deal of relief. Some people are comfortable with talking to other family members, friends, or clergy members. Mesothelioma patients and their caregivers can also benefit from speaking to trained therapists and attending support groups. Participants can usually attend these sessions online or on the phone if they cannot go in person.
The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) can help caregivers by providing up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave to care for seriously ill family members. It protects them from losing their job during this time, but they do not receive their wages or salaries. However, it is meant for job security. Although it may not be easy, caregivers should try to get plenty of rest, eat healthy, and learn about the disease so they know what to expect.
A mesothelioma diagnosis can be incredibly difficult. If you are a mesothelioma patient or caregiver, it is wise to look into the benefits of palliative care. The Philadelphia mesothelioma lawyers at Brookman, Rosenberg, Brown & Sandler serve mesothelioma patients and their families. We can help you with the legal side while you focus on recovery. For a free consultation, call us at 215-569-4000 or complete our online form. Located in Philadelphia, we serve clients throughout New Jersey and Pennsylvania, including Delaware County, Chester County, and Philadelphia County.