Mesothelioma, a cancer that invades the wall lining of the lungs and other internal organs, is a particularly difficult type of cancer to treat. Almost universally related to the inhalation of asbestos particles, treatment of advanced stages of the disease is largely palliative. Palliative health care refers to the focus of relieving symptoms and pain as opposed to taking steps to eliminate the illness.
In many advanced cases of mesothelioma, patients experience a difficulty swallowing. The medical term for such a symptom is dysphagia. As the mesothelioma tumor spreads from the lungs to the esophagus, the tumor can reduce the diameter of the air pathway. In some cases, this reduced ability to breath and swallow is the direct cause of death.
In an effort to assuage dysphagia, prolong survival and reduce discomfort, a recent study performed at the Department of Cardiothoracic Surgery in Derriford Hospital points to esophageal stents as a potential treatment.
A case report published in the January 25, 2008 Journal of Cardiothoracic Surgery details the success of self-expanding esophageal stents on patience with mesothelioma. In the three patient cases discussed in the report, all three patients achieved immediate satisfactory reduction in dysphagia. However, progressive dysphagia resurfaced 1 to 6 months later. In such cases further stenting is required to open up a larger portion of the esophagus.
As dysphagia is usually an end-case symptom, patients are not expected to survive a considerable length of time as a result of the stents. However, the primary goal of the procedure is to relieve pain and improve quality of life for the patient.