Historically, mesothelioma has been one of the most difficult forms of asbestos cancer to treat. Though doctors have been prescribing chemotherapy for decades, few chemotherapeutic agents have had much effect on the aggressive disease.
Among recently approved medications, Alimta stands out as having the most promise in prolonging the life of mesothelioma patients, as well as improving their quality of life.
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Alimta (Pemetrexed) is a newer chemotherapy medication that was approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 2005. Often used in conjunction with Cisplatin, Alimta is the first medication that is specifically approved for the treatment of mesothelioma and is considered to be the most effective chemotherapy treatment for pleural mesothelioma patients that are not candidates for surgery.
Alimta is a multi-targeted anti-folate medication that works by blocking the enzymes required for DNA replication and cell division. During clinical trials, Alimta (used in tandem with Cisplatin) added an average of three months to the lives of malignant mesothelioma patients and also helped to reduce symptoms.
As with any medication, it is imperative for patients to discuss the use of Alimta and Cisplatin with their doctor before beginning cancer treatment. An oncologist will provide facts about the effectiveness of Alimta, the administration of the medication, and the side effects patients encounter. When beginning treatment with Alimta, cancer doctors will also recommend B12 supplements by injection and folic acid supplements by mouth daily (supplementation will continue for 21 days after the last dosage cycle of Alimta). Physicians will also prescribe an oral steroid to help minimize side effects. Patients should inform their doctor of all other medications being taken to avoid dangerous interactions.
Alimta is given to mesothelioma patients every 21 days on an outpatient basis. Treatment consists of a 10-minute IV infusion, followed by two hours of Cisplatin. The number of cycles patients are required to receive will depend on their response to the medications and intensity of resulting side effects.
The side effects of Alimta are usually mild to moderate for most patients with pleural mesothelioma. Some patients may experience extreme side effects and a doctor should be informed immediately if a reaction becomes a serious problem.
Loss of appetite
Difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep
Changes in mood
Joint or muscle pain
Low red blood cells (anemia)
Low white blood cells (neutropenia)
Low platelets (thrombocytopenia)
Mesothelioma patients should avoid being near people who have colds, the flu, or other signs of illness. Make sure to contact your doctor at once if you develop signs of an infection. Before you receive Alimta, tell your doctor if you are taking an NASAID, such as ibuprofen, naproxen, indometacin, ketoprofen, and others. Also before receiving Alimta, tell your doctor if you have kidney disease, liver disease, a weak immune system, or excess fluid in the space around your lungs, liver or other internal organs.
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