The Future of Mesothelioma Treatments Is Hopeful

Two doctors looking at X-rays

Each day, doctors and patients within the mesothelioma community hope for some breakthrough treatment that will offer real hope.

Everyone agrees on one thing. Traditional treatment options like surgery, chemotherapy and radiation therapy simply aren’t successful enough.

For years, the prognosis for most mesothelioma patients would go something like this: they get cancer, doctors try one or more treatments that show little or no success — or show some success but not for long enough.

Emerging treatment options project a better future for the mesothelioma community.

The research and treatments being performed in clinical trials and facilities across the world are leading doctors to more effective procedures for current and future mesothelioma patients.

Some have shown modest results while others have outright failed. Some have demonstrated significant potential. Collectively, all attempts at new treatments mean progress towards a brighter future. It’s likely that you aren’t familiar with all of the following emerging treatment options.

Gene Therapy

Gene therapy is the treatment process of replacing defective genes with a properly-functioning copy of that same gene. Basically, the genetics of a virus is altered, allowing the virus to carry normal versions of a dysfunctional gene.

Early trials of gene therapy demonstrate that this procedure may be a viable option for mesothelioma patients around the world in the future, despite being considered experimental by today’s standards

For example, a March report showed that doctors at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine was making significant progress with this treatment.

“We only started this trial a year ago. The crude data is very preliminary, but very, very impressive,” said Dr. Daniel Sterman at a teleconference held by the Mesothelioma Applied Research Foundation.

So, are the researchers being overly optimistic or are they truly near breakthrough? According to Sterman, it’s closer to the latter.

“Advances in medicine can move slowly. This has moved slower than anyone anticipated, but we’re excited now where we are, what we’re seeing.”

Gene therapy has been a point of study for over 18 years but appears that researchers are closer than ever in terms of mesothelioma treatment. This could be one of many treatment procedures that patients should be on the lookout for.

Photodynamic Therapy

By most accounts, photodynamic therapy is nothing new. Evidence shows that this primitive versions of this treatment was used in thousands of years ago in agent Egypt. However, with for the purposes of mesothelioma, it is newer and more experimental than traditional methods.

Commonly referred to as PDT, this therapy utilizes non-toxic light energy to destroy cancer cells within the body. A mesothelioma patient would be injected with a drug known as a photosensitizer that makes specific cells sensitive to particular wavelengths of light.

At that point, light is cast on the cancerous cells where the radiation will hopefully kill the cancer without destroying properly-functioning cells.

Unlike more strenuous treatments such as surgery, PDT is often an outpatient procedure.

It does mirror other procedures in that it is often used in parallel with other treatments. In fact, PDT was recently found to be increasingly effective when paired with lung-sparing surgery, if the patient qualifies for the treatments.

Cryotherapy

Cryotherapy, also referred to as cryoablation, or cryosurgery in surgical instances, is a relatively new procedure for treatment on internal organs. It involves the process of using extremely cold temperatures to freeze and destroy diseased and cancerous tissue and cells.

Liquid nitrogen or argon gas is inserted into the diseased cells through an thin applicator. Imaging technology is used to guide physicians to the target treatment site, often using ultrasound, CT scans and MRIs.

According to medical standards, cryotherapy is often considered minimally invasive, but that is because it is more commonly seen with skin cancers and related external conditions. Researchers are experimenting more frequently with its effectiveness with lung cancer, mesothelioma and similar diseases.

The long-term viability of cryotherapy for mesothelioma will likely not be evident for years to come but researchers have not ruled this treatment out as a breakthrough potential for the rare yet aggressive asbestos cancer.

Targeted Therapy

Targeted therapy is the use of specific agents to attack particular functions within mesothelioma cancer cells. Researchers have spent a significant portion of the last few years experimenting with new agents, including Gefitin, histone deacetylase inhibitors and antiangiogenic agents and many others.

A 2011 report in Cancer Chemotherapy and Pharmacology highlighted a study by Danish scientists who analyzed 32 different clinical trials involving 17 unique targeted therapies of differing effectiveness.

The researchers concluded that targeted treatments might be beneficial in achieving disease stabilization, among patients who combine it with chemotherapy. However, they followed up by cautiously stating that none of these targeted treatments are effective enough at this point to substitute standard treatments.

Where Big Pharma is Betting

Large pharmaceutical companies play a significant role in the funding and development of cancer treatments and drugs. As most drugs and treatments begin at the clinical trial stage, this can be a great indicator for understanding where Big Pharma is placing its bets for where they believe the future is.

For example, Bristol-Myers Squibb developed a drug for lung disease that may also work on mesothelioma. The drug, known as BMS-936558, witnessed positive results through the first phases of clinical trials. The company appears to be on the right track in finding some treatment benefit of this drug.

In September of last year, pharmaceutical-giant Merck was developing a drug for mesothelioma known as Zolinza that was in Phase III. Unfortunately, the drug failed. It isn’t yet clear what will be the result of the company’s research.

GlaxoSmithKline may hold the key to mesothelioma even though that wasn’t within the company’s initial intention. GSK previously developed a drug for kidney cancer that is now being analyzed for applications including mesothelioma. Pazopanib, sold under the trade name Votrient, is being tested by oncologists at the Mayo Clinic for effectiveness in the ravaging asbestos cancer.

“We took pazopanib and added it to mesothelioma cells that we had in the lab, and we noticed that pazopanib was very effective at killing these cancer cells,” said Dr. Juan Molina, one of the doctors involved in the study.

According to Molina, the median survival for a mesothelioma patient is between nine and 12 months.

“We were able to show that pazopanib improved survival in our patients by about six months, to 18.6 months.”

When it comes to treating mesothelioma, measuring extra survival time by months is significant.


Mark Hall joined the Mesothelioma Center as a writer in 2011. Prior to joining the content team, Mark graduated from the University of Florida and then spent several years writing about business, entrepreneurship and technology for various online publications.

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