Mesothelioma cancer patients seek additional pain relief options

By David Haas

With no definitive cure for mesothelioma, cancer patients have limited options, and enter clinical trials with the hope of increasing their chances of survival and managing their pain.

Mesothelioma is a rare form of cancer that primarily affects the lungs. Due to its prolonged latency period of 10 to 50 years, symptoms often do not present themselves until the later stages of a patient’s life. It is paramount that this cancer is detected early on for the best possible outcome, however, this is often not the case. By the time this cancer is diagnosed, it may have already metastasized, or developed into a more aggressive stage.

With treatment options minimal for patients whose mesothelioma has advanced, the focus shifts towards methods of relieving pain, increasing quality of life through comfort, and achieving remission.

Fortunately, options such as medical cannabis are becoming available as perceptions evolve and regulations begin to be lifted. While research relating to anti-cancer properties and cannabis is still in its infancy, more trials are becoming available to those who suffer from rare cancers.

In a study published by the National Center for Biotechnology Information, researchers found that THC:CBD extract allowed for pain relief in patients with advanced cancer that was otherwise not fully relieved by prescription opioid usage.

This is promising, as mesothelioma patients are often put on an opioid regimen, where risk of opioid dependency is increased due to the necessity of relieving pain and the highly addictive nature of these drugs. Opioid usage has become a growing problem amongst patients dealing with severe pain and is proving to be an ineffective way to manage pain. For example, a study of 373 lung cancer patients and 22 mesothelioma patients published in Acta Oncologica found that total pain control by way of opioid usage was achieved in less than 20 per cent of patients.

As cannabis becomes widely accepted for medical purposes, more conclusive data will be published in relation to its effects in treating cancer patients. Hopefully, this will deter patients from relying solely on opioids for pain relief. Making way for cannabis may provide equal benefits to patients while limiting the dangerous side effects of opioids and the fears of dependency.

David Hass is the community outreach specialist for the Mesothelioma Society and contributed this post to Tilray.