While researchers continue looking for a cure for mesothelioma, there are signs of hope: Several people have achieved remission. For a small number of patients, it is spontaneous. In other cases, patients adopted specialized treatment regimens to gain remission. Cancer remission – including mesothelioma – may fall into one of two categories: complete remission and partial remission.
Complete remission - means that all evidence of the cancer has disappeared. While rare and not understood fully, this is possible. Researchers continue to study why some patients experience this and others do not.
Partial remission - means the cancer is improving significantly. Mesothelioma survivors may be considered to be in partial remission when they survive for several years after diagnosis, even though tumors may still be present.
A 54-year-old male in Germany with pleural mesothelioma achieved significant partial remission after receiving seven cycles of the chemotherapy drug gemcitabine. A CT scan taken 36 weeks after treatment revealed his tumor had shrunk by more than 50 percent. A report of the case noted the patient’s locally advanced and irremovable tumor responded favorably and was accompanied by mild, flu-like side effects through the first three cycles of treatment.
A British hospital patient, diagnosed with malignant pleural mesothelioma, saw the disease spontaneously regress. During a 12-year period, there was only one recurrence. The recurrence – six years after original regression – led to successful surgery with no further complications.
A Japanese woman with malignant peritoneal mesothelioma went into complete remission after surgery and a combination of chemotherapy and caffeine injections. Following surgery, the woman underwent a chemo routine of cisplatin and etoposide. Side effects caused her doctor to change the chemo regimen to uracil and tegafur. Her tumor and ascites disappeared 223 days after surgery. Her remission lasted eight months. The cancer recurred in the woman’s pleura.
A 61-year-old woman was diagnosed with poorly differentiated epithelial pleural mesothelioma in 2002. She entered an Australian clinical trial for the chemotherapy drug thalidomide, but before the trial began, the tumor began displaying signs of regression. By June 2003, her multiple pleural masses were completely absent. The woman was last examined in June 2007, when she was in good health and showed no signs of tumors.
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After reviewing case histories, doctors identified several factors that may contribute to mesothelioma remission. Surgery is the treatment most likely to lead to prolonged remission, but some patients have noted partial or complete remission after other therapies, such as:
For example, immunotherapy studies in animals have shown a favorable response to a genetically altered version of the Newcastle disease virus (a virus that affects birds). Mesothelioma cell lines were found to be susceptible to the genetically altered virus. In the study, 65 percent of the animals completely responded to the Newcastle viral therapy within 14 days of treatment. This led researchers to hypothesize that the Newcastle disease virus may be able to fight pleural mesothelioma.
While each of these promising therapies offers some degree of benefit to patients, they have not yet been proven. Each patient’s illness is unique and will respond differently to treatment.
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