Supportive care for mesothelioma

Supportive care helps people meet the physical, practical, emotional and spiritual challenges of mesothelioma. It is an important part of cancer care. There are many programs and services available to help meet the needs and improve the quality of life of people living with cancer and their loved ones, especially after treatment has ended.

Recovering from mesothelioma and adjusting to life after treatment is different for each person, depending on the extent of the disease, the type of treatment and many other factors. The end of cancer treatment may bring mixed emotions. Even though treatment has ended, there may be other issues to deal with, such as coping with long-term side effects.

A person who has been treated for mesothelioma may have the following concerns.

Living with advanced cancer

Many people with mesothelioma are diagnosed with advanced cancer. Advanced cancer is defined as cancer that is unlikely to be cured. Treatment is focused on relieving symptoms, controlling the cancer and improving quality of life.

Find out more about choosing care and treatment for advanced cancer.

Pleural effusion

A pleural effusion is a buildup of fluid around the lung. This fluid can press on the lung, making it hard to breathe. Pleural effusion is common with pleural mesothelioma but it can also be caused by peritoneal mesothelioma.

Symptoms of pleural effusion include shortness of breath, cough, a feeling of heaviness in the chest and anxiety about not being able to breathe.

If you have pleural effusion, your healthcare team will monitor you closely and suggest ways to treat it. Fluid often builds up again after it is removed, so you may need more than 1 treatment. The fluid may be drained from your chest using a needle (thoracentesis) or you may have surgery to seal the pleura together (pleurodesis) so fluid can’t build up anymore.

Find out more about pleural effusion.


Ascites is an abnormal buildup of fluid in the abdomen. It causes swelling in the abdomen, which can cause discomfort or pain. It can also cause nausea and shortness of breath. Most people with peritoneal mesothelioma develop ascites.

If you have ascites, your healthcare team may suggest ways to treat it. Fluid often builds up again after it is removed, so you may need more than 1 treatment. The fluid may be drained from your abdomen using a needle (paracentesis). You may also have chemotherapy drugs put directly into your abdomen thorough a small tube (catheter).

Find out more about ascites.

Loss of appetite

Many people with advanced mesothelioma lose their appetite. This can cause weight loss and poor nutrition. Severe loss of appetite can lead to the loss of muscle mass (cachexia).

It is important for you to try to maintain your weight even if you don’t feel like eating. Proper nutrition helps your body fight disease and cope with the effects of cancer treatment. Your healthcare team can suggest ways to help you manage loss of appetite.

Find out more about loss of appetite.


Fatigue is a general lack of energy, tiredness or exhaustion. It is a very common symptom in people with mesothelioma. Fatigue may be caused by the disease, treatments or loss of appetite.

Your healthcare team can suggest ways to help you manage fatigue. Treatment depends on what is causing the fatigue. You may also try to get enough sleep, manage your activities to reduce fatigue and eat a healthy diet.

Find out more about fatigue.

Bowel obstruction

A bowel obstruction is when the small intestine or colon is partly or completely blocked. Peritoneal mesothelioma can cause bowel obstructions.

Symptoms of bowel obstruction include pain, cramps and swelling in the abdomen, not being able to have a bowel movement, fever, nausea and vomiting.

Your healthcare team will try to find the cause of a bowel obstruction. Treatment will depend on the cause and how severe the blockage is. Treatments may include bowel rest, having a tube put into your stomach or colon to relieve pressure, medicines or surgery to remove and repair the blockage.

Find out more about bowel obstruction.


Pain is common in people with mesothelioma. It can occur when the cancer grows and puts pressure on other organs or nerves. The amount of pain often increases as the cancer advances.

Pain related to cancer can affect you physically and emotionally. Pain can affect healing and cause fatigue, loss of appetite and problems sleeping. Dealing with pain also takes energy that you need to fight disease and carry out normal daily activities.

For most people, pain related to cancer or its treatment can be controlled. Your healthcare team can help you find ways to prevent, manage or relieve your pain.

Find out more about pain.

Financial concerns

People with mesothelioma may have financial concerns as a result of their illness. There are special services or benefits to help workers (and their families) who have developed mesothelioma from being exposed to asbestos at work (occupational exposure). Conditions about exposure and legal processing of claims for asbestos-related cancers can differ by province or territory. Ask your doctor about these programs or check with a worker’s compensation or health insurance agency about filing for compensation in your province or territory.

See a list of questions to ask your doctor about supportive care after treatment.

Expert review and references

  • American Cancer Society. Malignant mesothelioma. 2016.
  • Pass HI, Carbone M, King LM, Rosenzweig KE . Benign and malignant mesothelioma. DeVita VT Jr, Lawrence TS, & Rosenberg SA. Cancer: Principles and Practice of Oncology. 10th ed. Philadelphia: Wolters Kluwer Health/Lippincott Williams & Wilkins; 2015: 114: 1738-1760.
  • Stahel RA, Weder W, Lievens Y, Felip E . Malignant pleural mesothelioma: ESMO clinical practice guidelines for diagnosis, treatment and follow-up. Annals of Oncology. 2010.

Medical disclaimer

The information that the Canadian Cancer Society provides does not replace your relationship with your doctor. The information is for your general use, so be sure to talk to a qualified healthcare professional before making medical decisions or if you have questions about your health.

We do our best to make sure that the information we provide is accurate and reliable but cannot guarantee that it is error-free or complete.

The Canadian Cancer Society is not responsible for the quality of the information or services provided by other organizations and mentioned on, nor do we endorse any service, product, treatment or therapy.

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