Is Mesothelioma Curable?
There is currently no definitive cure for any type of mesothelioma at any stage. However, the prognosis for stage 1 or stage 2 is more favorable than later stages. Patients with peritoneal mesothelioma typically survive longer than pleural mesothelioma patients.
Doctors focus on controlling the cancer to make patients as comfortable as possible. However, some patients enter long-term remission or have no evidence of disease after cancer treatments such as surgery, chemotherapy and immunotherapy.
Breakthroughs in clinical trials are getting closer to finding a cure for mesothelioma. With experimental treatments, some survivors live longer than the typical mesothelioma life expectancy despite the aggressive nature of this rare cancer.
Closer to a Cure Than Before
Finding an absolute mesothelioma cure still may be years away, but there are many ways to control cancer side effects and improve quality of life. Advances in palliative treatment have allowed many mesothelioma patients to remain active after their diagnosis.
A poor prognosis is no longer the norm at specialty centers with experience in treating this rare disease. Patients with an early diagnosis live longer thanks to mesothelioma specialists and emerging therapies at skilled treatment facilities.
Mesothelioma Research to Find a Cure
Doctors and researchers are working on developing a mesothelioma cure by improving conventional treatments for mesothelioma.
As a result of this mesothelioma research, surgeries are more precise, therapies are more exact, and chemotherapy and radiation are more effective.
Researchers are refining these treatments to find a mesothelioma cure:
- Chemotherapy: The most effective chemotherapy treatment combines the FDA-approved drugs pemetrexed and cisplatin. Researchers are now looking at the possibility of adding Avastin (bevacizumab) to the combination. The hope is that all three drugs will delay the cancer spread and increase overall survival rates.
- Surgery: Extrapleural pneumonectomy, pleurectomy and decortication and cytoreductive surgery (CRS) with hyperthermic intraperitoneal chemotherapy, or HIPEC, are major mesothelioma surgeries. Researchers are evaluating if adding heated chemotherapy or cryotherapy (freezing of tumors) to certain surgical procedures will improve overall effectiveness.
- Radiation: Intensity-modulated radiation therapy, also known as IMRT, is becoming the preferred form of radiation for mesothelioma because it precisely targets tumors from multiple directions without harming healthy tissue.
- Tumor Treating Fields: Also known as TTFields, this new therapy uses alternating electrical fields to stop tumor growth and spreading. In 2019, it became the second therapy approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to treat pleural mesothelioma.
- Multimodal: A multimodal therapy approach that combines surgery with chemotherapy and radiation has proven effective in early-stage patients. Even patients who are not candidates for surgery have found chemotherapy and immunotherapy combinations that can work for them.
Clinical trials across the nation are conducting research studies with experimental medications that could eventually cure mesothelioma. Patients can speak with their provider, a Patient Advocate or a mesothelioma specialist to find eligible trials in their area.
Scientists are also exploring the link between genetic mutations and mesothelioma using gene therapy. Mesothelioma specialists are now using genetic biomarkers for the early detection of mesothelioma.
Mesothelioma Research Centers
Some of the most important and impactful research, including immunotherapy and gene therapy, is underway at specialized mesothelioma research centers throughout the United States. Researchers at top treatment facilities include mesothelioma specialists such as oncologists, surgeons, pathologists and immunologists.
Speaking with a mesothelioma specialist or a Patient Advocate at The Mesothelioma Center is the best way to access the latest clinical trials and resources. Most of this research occurs at the nation’s top universities, cancer centers, research centers and hospitals.
Some of these centers and hospitals include:
- National Institutes of Health
- Shukla Research Lab at the University of Vermont
- Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City
- Harvard Medical School’s partnership with Brigham and Women’s Hospital
- AdventHealth Celebration in Kissimmee, Florida
- Vaccine and Immunotherapy Center at Massachusetts General Hospital
Top treatment centers have the best support and resources for running multiple mesothelioma clinical trials. Mesothelioma specialists and their multidisciplinary teams are active in the most current research trials, which provide the latest emerging treatments to eligible patients.
Emerging Treatments for Mesothelioma
Doctors and researchers use clinical trials to develop new treatment options for mesothelioma. As more therapies emerge from recent research, 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.
Many emerging mesothelioma treatments are targeted therapies, such as immunotherapy and gene therapy, which treat cancer cells specifically, avoiding dangerous interactions with healthy cells. These new options will help doctors treat a broader range of mesothelioma patients with fewer side effects and longer-lasting results.
Emerging mesothelioma treatment options include:
- 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 checkpoint inhibitors, virotherapy, vaccine therapy and more.
- Gene Therapy: The goal of gene therapy is to repair problems caused by defective or missing genes. 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.
- 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.
- Anti-Angiogenics: Tumors produce blood vessels during angiogenesis, a process that supplies them with oxygen-rich blood for rapid growth. Bevacizumab and other anti-angiogenic medications limit tumor blood vessel growth and slow metastasis.
These emerging treatment options for mesothelioma are still undergoing testing through many clinical trials. As research continues, these methods will become safer and more effective, eventually becoming part of a standard multimodal treatment plan.
Clinical research trials offer substantial benefits for mesothelioma patients, especially those who have not responded well to traditional options such as surgery or chemotherapy. Scientific advances will continue, and new cancer technologies will emerge, allowing researchers to one day develop a cure for mesothelioma.
““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.”Dr. Jacques FontaineMesothelioma Research and Treatment Center at Moffitt Cancer Center
Breakthroughs in Clinical Trials Bring Us Closer to a Cure
Researchers are tirelessly looking for new therapies because traditional mesothelioma treatment options don’t always work for every patient. Currently, the process for introducing a new asbestos cancer medication typically takes 12 to 15 years. It takes nearly seven years for a new drug to make it to the first clinical trial stage.
Researchers spend years performing tests across the four phases of the development process to ensure patient safety. Clinical trials measure patient side effects, adverse reactions and overall benefit before pharmaceutical companies market a drug for widespread use.
Preliminary research tests new drugs on samples of mesothelioma tumors in laboratories rather than on patients directly, thanks to the National Mesothelioma Virtual Bank. Researchers can begin clinical trials on humans once a specific drug or treatment has shown success and safety in a lab setting.
Clinical trials help researchers improve their understanding of mesothelioma and find new ways to combat the disease. Recent clinical trials have led to new technologies for treating mesothelioma such as photodynamic therapy, which uses light to kill cancer cells. Another example is epigenetic therapy, which can reverse genetic damage and slow cancer growth.
Obstacles to a Cure for Mesothelioma
Thanks to emerging treatments from clinical research, the future is looking brighter for people diagnosed with mesothelioma. However, there are still several hurdles we must cross on the road to a cure.
Mesothelioma is a rare form of cancer. Unlike the more common lung, colon and breast cancers, there is a distinct lack of awareness and research dollars. Government research on mesothelioma typically receives less federal funding compared to other cancers.
A lack of mesothelioma awareness means many patients do not receive an early or accurate diagnosis. Symptoms are often vague and don’t appear until later when treatment options are much more limited. A late-stage diagnosis may disqualify patients from specific treatments, such as surgery, making it harder to participate in clinical trials.
Researchers are developing approaches to treatment that may downstage a patient’s cancer, allowing them to qualify for surgery, which offers the best chance at long-term survival. 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.
Common Questions About Finding a Mesothelioma Cure
- Has anyone been cured of mesothelioma?
There is currently no cure for mesothelioma, although some patients have lived several years beyond the average life expectancy. Advancements in treatments through mesothelioma clinical trials continue to provide patients hope for an eventual cure.
- Are there any promising new mesothelioma treatments?
Researchers are exploring new mesothelioma treatment options with encouraging potential. Physicians are combining immunotherapies for mesothelioma with chemotherapy to improve survival. New targeted treatments such as gene therapy continue to enhance the efficacy of anti-cancer action while minimizing damage to healthy tissue.