Is Mesothelioma Curable?

There is currently no definitive cure for any type of mesothelioma at any stage. Some doctors will say a cancer is cured if a complete remission has endured for more than 5 years.

While doctors have documented complete remissions with mesothelioma, this cancer often returns in such cases. Medical literature on mesothelioma reports only a few cases of complete remission lasting more than 5 years. Partial remission with long-term disease control is more common than complete remission among mesothelioma survivors.

If somebody lives 5 years with mesothelioma, will we consider them cured if they have no evidence of disease? Maybe. Can it still recur? Unfortunately, yes. But the key is they will still likely continue to live and live well.

A significant number of patients have entered long-term partial remission after mesothelioma treatment. These treatments have included surgery, chemotherapy, immunotherapy and other anticancer drugs.

Treatments in mesothelioma clinical trials occasionally work for a few patients even if they don’t work for most participants. Treatments that help a handful of patients enter remission rarely move forward into larger studies, but the data still helps researchers develop new therapies for future clinical trials. 

“I try to encourage patients to think of it more in terms of a goal of long-term survival with good quality survival,” says mesothelioma specialist Dr. Andrea Wolf. Doctors told 13% of respondents to The Mesothelioma Center’s 2023 mesothelioma patient survey that they were in remission or cancer free.

Getting Closer to a Cure for Mesothelioma 

As researchers work on a cure, doctors use treatments developed through clinical trials to control cancer growth, limit side effects and improve quality of life. Advances in conventional and palliative treatment help some patients to live more than a decade with mesothelioma.    

Patients at all stages have outlived their prognosis working with mesothelioma specialists who have years or decades of experience treating this rare disease. Patients with an early diagnosis tend to live longer, but reports of long-term survival among late-stage cases are becoming more common.

For example, a 2023 case report describes a patient with advanced pleural mesothelioma who was alive more than 11 years after diagnosis thanks to systemic chemotherapy and immunotherapy. This patient had a malignant adenomatoid cell type that responded well to systemic treatment.

A study published in the Journal of Cancer Therapy described a stage 4 pleural mesothelioma patient who was alive more than 12.5 years after a complete remission with sodium phenylbutyrate treatment. This patient’s cancer was recurrent despite three lines of chemotherapy. Studies on sodium phenylbutyrate have produced inconsistent results, and researchers don’t know why it has worked for some patients.

I think the future for mesothelioma treatment is a bright one. As we think outside the box, there’s going to be a lot of innovative and very interesting treatments.

Headshot of Jacques Fontaine

Refining Treatments to Find a Cure for Mesothelioma

Researchers are working on a cure by improving conventional treatments for mesothelioma. Treatment has improved because of this research. Surgeries are more precise. Chemotherapy and radiation are more effective. Treatment plans have improved and immunotherapy became a standard of care.

Years ago, immune checkpoint inhibitors were considered an emerging immunotherapy treatment for mesothelioma. In 2020, the FDA approved Opdivo (nivolumab) and Yervoy (ipilimumab), in combination for pleural mesothelioma.

Improving Mesothelioma Treatment
  • Chemotherapy: The most effective chemotherapy treatment combines the FDA-approved drugs pemetrexed and cisplatin. Researchers are evaluating the addition of different drugs, such as Avastin (bevacizumab) or the anticancer enzyme ADI-PEG20, to the combination.
  • Immunotherapy: New research is showing improved survival among patients taking a new therapeutic cancer vaccine, called UV1, in combination with the immunotherapy drugs Opdivo and Yervoy.
  • Multimodal: A multimodal therapy approach combines treatments. Researchers study new combinations to improve outcomes.
  • Radiation: Intensity-modulated radiation therapy is becoming the preferred form of radiation for mesothelioma. It precisely targets tumors from multiple directions while sparing healthy tissue.
  • Surgery: Researchers are evaluating if adding heated chemotherapy or cryotherapy (freezing of tumors) to certain surgical procedures will improve overall effectiveness.

Clinical trials across the nation conduct studies with experimental medications and therapies. These trials also combine conventional treatment with emerging therapies. For example, after years of development in clinical trials, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved Tumor Treating Fields to treat pleural mesothelioma. This method uses alternating electrical fields in combination with chemotherapy to limit tumor growth and spreading.

Emerging Treatments for Mesothelioma

Emerging mesothelioma treatments include targeted therapies, vaccine therapy and unique types of immunotherapies including CAR T cell therapy. Doctors and researchers use clinical trials to develop these new treatment options for mesothelioma

The following emerging treatment options for mesothelioma are still undergoing testing through clinical trials. As research continues, these methods may become safer and more effective, and eventually could become part of conventional treatment.

Emerging Mesothelioma Treatments
  • Anti-Angiogenics: Tumors produce blood vessels during angiogenesis, a process that supplies them with oxygen-rich blood for rapid growth. Bevacizumab is a targeted therapy and anti-angiogenic medication that limits tumor blood vessel growth and slows metastasis.
  • Cryotherapy: This therapy kills cancer cells with a probe that applies extreme cold to tumors. It is primarily used to control tumors that return after treatment.
  • Gene Therapy: The goal of gene therapy is to repair problems defective or missing genes can cause. Suicide gene therapy modifies cancer cells to include a self-destruct gene. Treatment with the p53 gene helps the immune system find and kill cancer cells.
  • Immunotherapy: Mesothelioma immunotherapy uses the patient’s immune system to target tumor cells, cancer genes or proteins that contribute to cancer growth. This category includes virotherapy, vaccine therapy, CAR T cell therapy and more.
  • Photodynamic Therapy: Photodynamic therapy involves using a photosensitizing drug and activating it with a unique light frequency to kill cancer cells. The treatment only affects cancerous areas, avoiding damage to surrounding healthy tissue.
  • Vaccine Therapy: Like vaccines for flu and other diseases, a mesothelioma vaccine helps your body produce antibodies to fight cancer. This treatment can provide long-term protection against a recurrence for patients in remission.
  • Virotherapy: This emerging therapy involves laboratory-manipulated viruses that deliver medication and gene therapy inside cancer cells. Virotherapy is also notable for eliciting an immune response and combining well with other immunotherapies.

As more therapies emerge in fields such as epigenetic therapy, patients benefit from new techniques that may work better than standard treatments. Specialists also test multimodal treatment plans to combine novel treatments with traditional therapies for better results. Scientific advances will continue, and new cancer technologies will emerge, allowing researchers to one day develop a cure for mesothelioma.

Clinical research trials offer substantial benefits for mesothelioma patients, especially those who haven’t responded well to traditional options such as surgery or chemotherapy. Patients can speak with their provider, a Patient Advocate or a mesothelioma specialist to find eligible trials in their area.

Survivor Story
Survivor Story
Kay Kilpatrick-Simmons Pleural Mesothelioma Survivor

Survivor Credits Novel Cryotherapy With No New Tumor Growth

Kay Kilpatrick-Simmons underwent cryoablation, a novel treatment at UCLA that kills recurrent mesothelioma tumor cells with liquid nitrogen. Recent scans show no new tumor growth. She’s especially grateful for finding Dr. Robert Cameron, whose office is 3 miles from her home in L.A. There are patients who travel from around the country for his expertise in treating mesothelioma.

Read Kay’s Story

Clinical Trial Process

Currently, the process for introducing a new cancer drug typically takes 12 to 15 years. It takes nearly 7 years for a new drug to make it to the first clinical trial stage. Preliminary research tests new drugs on samples of mesothelioma tumors in laboratories rather than on patients directly, thanks to the National Mesothelioma Virtual Bank

Clinical trials on humans may begin once a drug or treatment has shown success and safety in a lab setting. Researchers spend years performing tests to ensure patient safety. Clinical trials measure patient side effects, adverse reactions and overall benefit before pharmaceutical companies get approved to market a drug for widespread use. 

Mesothelioma Research Centers

Some of the most impactful research is underway at research centers and hospitals throughout the United States. Some of these centers and hospitals conduct preliminary laboratory research, while others conduct clinical trials in mesothelioma patients.

Centers Conducting Mesothelioma Research

Top treatment centers have the best support and resources to run mesothelioma clinical trials. Mesothelioma specialists and their multidisciplinary teams are active in these trials, which provide the latest emerging treatments and asbestos cancer medication to eligible patients. Speaking with a mesothelioma specialist is the best way to access the latest clinical trials and resources.

Dr. Jacques Fontaine and Dr. Virginia Wolf
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Obstacles to a Cure for Mesothelioma

While the average mesothelioma survival rate has improved in recent years thanks to emerging treatments, there are still several hurdles on the road to a cure. Mesothelioma is a rare form of cancer. There is a distinct lack of awareness and research dollars for it compared to the more common lung, colon and breast cancers.

Government research on mesothelioma receives less federal funding compared to other cancers. Researchers also face challenges finding participants for clinical trials involving surgery, which historically is associated with longer survival rates.

27.6%

Percentage of pleural mesothelioma patients who received surgery between 2004 and 2020. 

Source: National Cancer Database, 2023

Mesothelioma symptoms typically don’t appear until later stages of progression when treatment options are much more limited. A late-stage diagnosis often disqualifies patients from multimodal therapy with surgery, limiting available trial candidates.

Researchers are developing approaches to treatment that may downstage a patient’s cancer, allowing them to qualify for surgery. For example, a 2020 report described a stage 3 patient downstaged to stage 2 after chemotherapy. The patient then qualified for aggressive surgery and was still alive at a 30-month follow-up.

How You Can Help Find a Mesothelioma Cure

People who participate in clinical trials, donate funds for research and support advocacy groups can help in the search to find a cure for mesothelioma. By getting involved, you can play a role toward a brighter future for mesothelioma patients and their families.

  • Participating in Clinical Trials: Participation allows patients to contribute directly to the advancement of treatment options and an eventual cure. These trials have led to FDA-approved treatments that help people live longer with mesothelioma.
  • Supporting Research: Supporting organizations financially or through volunteer work helps researchers find a cure for mesothelioma. Every contribution, big or small, makes a difference in the fight against this disease.
  • Helping Advocacy Groups: Cancer advocacy groups educate the public, policymakers and health care professionals about the impact of mesothelioma. They also raise funds for research and to support affected families.
  • Raising Awareness: Increased awareness of a disease contributes to early detection, better treatment outcomes and support for research initiatives. Raising awareness promotes early diagnosis when treatment is most effective.

Through the collective efforts of patients, families, doctors and researchers, we can make significant strides toward finding a cure for mesothelioma. Together we can unite with hope, support and determination for a future free from this devastating disease.

Common Questions About Finding a Mesothelioma Cure

Has anyone been cured of mesothelioma?

There is currently no cure for mesothelioma, but some patients have lived more than a decade in partial or complete remission. Medical research documents several cases of long-term and complete remission, but partial remission is more common. Advancements in treatments through mesothelioma clinical trials continue to provide patients hope for an eventual cure.

Can lung surgery cure pleural mesothelioma?

Pleural mesothelioma surgery is not a cure, but it is one of the best treatment options. Being a candidate for surgery can extend the life expectancy for a pleural mesothelioma patient by a year or more.

What are the chances of surviving mesothelioma?

Despite a lack of curative treatments, about 5% of pleural patients and 39% of peritoneal patients have lived more than 10 years with mesothelioma. About 12% live longer than five years with pleural, and 65% of peritoneal patients live at least as long as five years.

How does early detection improve mesothelioma survival rate?

Patients diagnosed with mesothelioma in an early stage of progression often qualify for multimodal treatment. Treatment at an early stage helps to control this condition and is associated with improved survival rates.

Are there any promising new mesothelioma treatments?

Researchers are exploring new treatment options, including targeted therapies, immunotherapy and new combinations of treatments, that show encouraging potential in clinical trials. Physicians are using recently approved immunotherapies for mesothelioma and combining targeted therapies with chemotherapy to improve survival.

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