Nearly 3,000 people in the U.S. are diagnosed with mesothelioma each year. This rare form of cancer typically attacks the lungs, but also has the ability to develop in the lining of the stomach or heart additionally. The average person diagnosed with mesothelioma is usually in their late 50s to early 60s due to the asbestos fibers they were pre-exposed to decades earlier. Asbestos is the only known cause of mesothelioma and is the primary reason why factory workers and members of the military are more often than not the most vulnerable demographic.
Although mesothelioma remains incurable, the prognosis is improving through the development of experimental drug trials and clinical treatments catered specifically for this rare type of cancer.
Pemetrexed was the first FDA-approved mesothelioma chemotherapy drug developed in 2000. It is administered during a 21-day chemotherapy session and can be used as a single agent or successfully combined with the drug cisplatin. The invasive drug is administered twice throughout the treatment—once on the first day of chemotherapy, and then a second time after 21 days of chemo has been completed.
As of May 2019, the FDA approved NovoTTF-100L Plus chemotherapy, a new type of chemotherapy that helps malignant mesothelioma patients. This is the first FDA-approved therapy for this disease in over 15 years. According to the STELLAR study, they found that tumor treating fields (TTF) and chemotherapy combined caused patients to extend their overall survival rate.
The practice of gene therapy is bringing us one step closer to a cure for mesothelioma. Designed to correct sick cells, gene therapy uses the genes of healthy living cells and transplants them into defective ones. Currently clinical trials designed specifically for mesothelioma patients are being studied. Statin lovastatin, thalidomide, and ranpirnase have already proven success in treating forms of rare cancers and diseases.
Mesothelioma-specific patients have two types of radiation options that typically complement a more dominant form of treatment. They are known as external beam radiation and brachytherapy. The three benefits of radiation are to reduce the pain throughout the entire treatment process, prevent tumors from developing further, and find more opportunity to develop treatment options designed specifically to each patient. External beam radiation works to slow the growth of malignant cells and stop them from developing and maturing. Brachytherapy is a temporary form of treatment that involves a high dose of radiation directly to the tumor through an application that needs to be left in place to properly see all seeds are removed.
The primary function of the body's immune system is to block and prevent viruses, bacteria, and fungi from entering it. Pembrolizumab targets the PD-1/PD-L1 which helps to prevent cancer cells from hiding throughout the body. After using pembrolizumab, 26 percent of patients saw their tumors shrink, while 48 percent of patients saw no increase in the current extent of their tumors.
Bevacizumab is another immuno-drug in trial phases. This option essentially starves tumors by preventing new blood vessels from forming. It is used in conjunction with chemotherapy as a second-line treatment option for those patients with non-operable mesothelioma tumors.
CAR T-Cell Therapy
CAR T-cell therapy is a third type of immunotherapy. This method requires T cells to be re-engineered to produce chimeric antigen receptors (CARs). A doctor will gather a patient's T cells through a blood sample. When the T cells are readministered back into the patient's body, the new receptors help distinguish where the cancer cells are and start to attack them.
CAR T-cell therapy is still in its infancy and there are a number of side effects that might occur during this treatment method. One side effect that proves the treatment is working is cytokine release syndrome. This can bring about symptoms such as rashes, high fever, trouble breathing, and even extremely low blood pressure.
More common cancers, such as breast and skin, are in constant rotation for new treatment options and, oftentimes, the rarer types get put on the back burner. However, this method of therapy is seeing positive results for mesothelioma patients. The Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center conducted a trial treatment that involved 21 patients with two different forms of metastatic diseases. After several months, 13 patients showed great signs of antitumor activity. Although these trials are still in infancy stages, doctors and researchers are confident that they are developing the necessary forms of treatment to one day see the cure for terminal diseases like mesothelioma.
The Future of Treatment
The oncological field is making immense strides in developing new treatment options for patients. With mesothelioma detection coming at earlier stages, more effective treatments are being created for those who have been impacted by asbestos exposure. Clinical trials are paving the way for new treatment advancements, and mesothelioma patients remain hopeful that a cure will be found in the near future.
For more information on mesothelioma, visit Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance athttps://www.mesothelioma.com/mesothelioma/