Mesothelioma Symptoms May Benefit from Tuberculosis Drugs


Pleural effusion is the one of most uncomfortable and life-limiting symptoms of pleural mesothelioma. The buildup of fluid in the pleural space around the lungs, which can happen in late stage mesothelioma as well as several other types of cancer, limits breathing and can be painful. Effusion is often one of the primary reasons that mesothelioma patients in the late stages of the disease have trouble taking a full breath and complain of chest pain and fatigue.

While pleural fluid can be drained off through thoracentesis or chemically absorbed through pleurodesis, these treatments are painful, risky, and not always effective. Now, a team of researchers in China say they may have discovered a non-invasive method for dealing with pleural effusion caused by mesothelioma or other cancers. They may also have inadvertently found a new type of cancer treatment.

In a recent article in the International Journal of Clinical and Experimental Pathology, the researchers detail the case of a 54-year-old woman with pleural effusion. Although her effusion was later found to have come from squamous cell carcinoma, the symptoms, including cough, dyspnea (shortness of breath), chest pain, night sweats, and fever, were identical to those seen in many late-stage mesothelioma patients with effusion.

The woman’s Chinese doctors decided to try an unconventional approach to deal with her pleural effusion. Instead of having a procedure, she was treated with a cocktail of anti-tuberculosis drugs. Combination therapy with isoniazid, pyrazinamide, rifapentine and ethambutol, a group of antibacterial medicines, is a standard treatment for tuberculosis.  The researchers report that the tuberculosis treatment worked to eliminate the woman’s pleural effusion and kept it in check as long as she was on the medication.

The patient’s pleural effusion eventually returned when drug therapy was stopped, but she was free of breathing problems and cough for sixteen months.  The authors concluded that the case could have implications for mesothelioma patients and other cancer patients suffering with pleural effusion. “This report provides useful evidences for that the anti-tubercular agents may have potential anticancer activity in some carcinomas,” they write.


Gu, Q, Hu, C & QU, J, “Good response of malignant pleural effusion from carcinoma of unknown primary site to the anti-tuberculosis therapy: a case report”, April 15, 2013, International Journal of Clinical and Experimental Pathology, pp. 973-977.
Antituberculosis Agents, Drug Class Overview, Livertox website, NIH National Library of Medicine.

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