Two Chemotherapy Studies Renew Hope for Mesothelioma Patients
August 13, 2012
Increased survival rates and improved conditions among mesothelioma patients in two recent chemotherapy studies bring a renewed sense of hope for doctors and patients.
Cisplatin and pemetrexed — two familiar mesothelioma chemotherapy drugs — were the focus of one American study. Another study included the use of methotrexate, which is an antimetabolite usually associated with the treatment of blood diseases, lung cancer, breast cancer and others disorders.
Although initial results appear premature and incomplete because of small sample sizes, thousands of mesothelioma patients and family members can find hope in the idea that these studies may translate into viable treatments in the future.
Two Mesothelioma Studies, One Goal
The first study, conducted by researchers from the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, involved adding bevacizumab to the already common mesothelioma drug combination of cisplatin and pemetrexed.
This multicenter study involved 52 mesothelioma patients who were untreated before the study. All the participating patients were also not considered candidates for surgery.
Nearly 56 percent of the participating patients experienced progression-free survival exceeding six months. However, the experiment didn’t yield the 33 percent improvement rate that the researchers were expecting.
Some patients were found to have undergone significant toxicities, such as the reduction of white blood cells, blood clotting and hypertension. But these side effects and less-than-ideal results didn’t leave doctors hopeless.
The progression-free survival rate and nearly one-third improvement rate shines a bright light on the potential for continued use of bevacizumab with cisplatin and pemetrexed in future experiments. Continued experiments of this combination is required for definitive results.
A second smaller chemotherapy treatment study for mesothelioma resulted in a better outlook, after patients were infused with methotrexate into their pleural cavities. The study was conducted by Egyptian doctors and researchers and only included five mesothelioma patients, who received the chemotherapy agent in increased levels in the pleural areas.
Methotrexate is among the chemotherapy agents with the longest history of medical use. But in terms of mesothelioma treatments and research, its use is practically nonexistent.
Patients were treated with three cycles with fourteen days between cycles. The researchers increased the drug quantity after each cycle and tested the levels of the chemotherapy agent in the pleural fluid areas and blood each day.
Results showed multiple positive signs. The methotrexate remained in the target area of the pleural space where the cancer cells are concentrated. Furthermore, no grade II toxicities were discovered, even as the drug’s quantity was increased.
Because of the small experiment size, the researchers acknowledge the need for a phase II study of a larger and formal sample group. With that said, they view this initial experiment as an extremely encouraging development.
“This approach allows attaining methotrexate pleural levels that are 95 to 3,000 times higher than systemic serum levels, with minimal toxicity,” the researchers concluded.
Chemotherapy has long been considered one of the preferred treatment options for mesothelioma and many other cancers, along with surgery and radiation treatment. However, because of complications often associated with this this disease, its long-term effectiveness on some patients are less than optimal.
Wasted Hope or Progress?
Despite the initial hopeful signs from these two studies, some remain skeptical about their viability as a treatment, because of longstanding difficulties associated with treating mesothelioma.
Years of tests, research and experiments have resulted in limited improvements to this cancer’s treatment effectiveness. Life expectancies, prognosis and treatment options have changed little over the past few decades.
Mesothelioma is an extremely rare cancer, only affecting approximately 3,000 Americans each year, providing the medical community with a limited patient research pool, and further limiting the opportunity to find effective diagnostic and treatment options, dedicated resources, and arguably equally important, research funding.
Because most of these cancer patients don’t receive a proper diagnosis until the disease has progressed, doctors are frequently limited to seeing patients in later stages of the cancer, which can be a point where treatments like surgery are rarely an option.
However, recent developments in diagnostic methods have demonstrated a renewed hope by many in the medical community for earlier diagnosis.
As mesothelioma cancer continues to receive more attention, in part thanks to an increasingly growing legal focus on the occupational causes of the cancer, it is possible that more research funding and focus will come with it.
Additionally, as medical advances are made in other diseases like lung cancer, treatment options can be loaned to mesothelioma experiments for potential breakthroughs.
Even with the continued debate of effectiveness of particular mesothelioma treatments, researchers and doctors appear to be in consensus that all mesothelioma patients should remain positive and consider all available treatment options.
Survivor stories of mesothelioma patients who exceeded medical expectations through traditional treatments, alternative therapies, faith or a combination of all of them.