A mesothelioma treatment plan for patients seeking a potentially curative treatment commonly includes one or several drugs that aim to stop the spread of cancer and shrink existing tumors. These medications are typically used in combination with other drugs or may be used with further treatments like surgery and radiation therapy. This combination approach, called multimodal therapy, attacks the cancer in multiple ways for the best chance of killing cancer cells and shrinking tumors.
Each medicine falls into one of a few categories based on how it works against cancer – the main categories being chemotherapy, immunotherapy, photosensitizing and anti-angiogenesis. Some drugs in each category are still in testing phases, while others have been approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for use in mesothelioma or other cancers. Other less common treatments include gene therapy and hormonal therapy, which are both experimental in mesothelioma.
For more information about mesothelioma treatments, contact the Mesothelioma Center. We provide free patient resources like an informational packet to help patients make informed decisions regarding treatment for their specific diagnosis.
Chemotherapy is one of the most common treatments for any cancer, including mesothelioma. Chemotherapeutic agents seek out and attack cells that are rapidly dividing. This causes the drugs to target cancer cells which spread by dividing quickly. However, chemotherapy has its drawbacks. Notably, chemotherapy medication targets any quickly dividing cells and its effects are not exclusive to cancer cells. For many patients, this causes side effects like hair loss, nausea, aching and fatigue and a compromised immune system. Despite side effects, chemotherapy is considered one of the best mesothelioma treatment options. Chemotherapy agents for mesothelioma include the following:
Chemotherapeutic Agents for Mesothelioma
Immunotherapy agents are used in mesothelioma patients to enhance the patient's own immune system and force the body to attack cancer cells. A healthy immune system does not fight cancer because it does not recognize cancer cells as foreign. But with the addition of immunotherapy medications like the mesothelioma drug MORAb-009, the immune system is able to recognize the difference between healthy cells and cancerous cells and can begin fighting the mesothelioma cancer.
The mesothelioma drug SS1(dsFv)-PE38 is a different type of immunotherapy drug called an immunotoxin. This type of drug combines immunotherapy's tumor-honing properties with a toxin so that it specifically targets cancer cells and then kills them.
In addition to their ability to recruit the immune system in the fight against cancer, immunotherapy drugs are appealing because they have milder side effects than chemotherapy. Some patients experience temporary flu-like symptoms during the first treatment but typically have no negative side effects after that.
Photodynamic Therapy Drugs
Photodynamic therapy is a two-step treatment procedure which first uses photosensitizing drugs to make cancer cells vulnerable to light and then uses light to destroy the cancer cells. For mesothelioma patients, the photosensitizer is almost always Photofrin (profimer sodium), which is also used in other cancers like esophageal cancer.
Photodynamic therapy is being tested in pleural mesothelioma patients and has been found to improve survival times. The treatment is still in development for peritoneal mesothelioma while doctors search for an effective means of administering light to the abdominal cavity. The treatment commonly causes light sensitivity for about six weeks, which may result in burning, swelling or scarring. Other side effects may include coughing, stomach pain and shortness of breath.
Anti-angiogenesis drugs form a new class of medications that starve cancer cells rather than kill them directly. These drugs are still experimental and, despite carrying out a different function, may be classified simply as chemotherapy drugs. Anti-angiogenesis drugs like bevacizumab, interferons and interleukin-12 prevent new veins from growing towards cancer cells. Without blood vessels to bring nutrients, the cancer cells are unable to divide and spread, eventually leading them to die off. Patients treated with anti-angiogenesis drugs generally experience few side effects but may have problems related to the formation of new veins. Patients may experience excessive bleeding, blood clots or internal bleeding, but major or life-threatening problems are rare.
Top Treatment Options
Specialized mesothelioma doctors can treat you with the best therapies available. For help finding a physician near you and setting up an appointment, use the Doctor Match Program, a complimentary service offered by the Mesothelioma Center. One of our Patient Advocates will contact you and help you get access to the best treatments available.