Though mesothelioma has been studied for decades, scientists and doctors are still working to find a cure for this devastating disease. Standard treatments have consisted of surgery, chemotherapy and radiation. However, a wave of new mesothelioma therapies is emerging in an effort to combat this disease and redefine traditional treatment plans.
Here are 5 new mesothelioma therapies that hope to reduce pain and extend the life of patients:
1. Photodynamic Therapy (PDT)
PDT cannot be used in isolation but is an additional procedure that may be used for post-surgery mesothelioma patients. It uses light to photosensitize active agents and kill cancer cells. Championed by Dr. Joseph Friedberg, co-director of the Penn Mesothelioma and Pleural Program, PDT has been praised for its success in the post-operative treatment of mesothelioma.
The benefits include improving life expectancy from as much as several months to years, causing less damage to healthy cells than more invasive procedures and requiring fewer doses of radiation.
Immunotherapy uses the body’s own immune system to shrink or prevent tumors. Immunotherapy helps the body to acknowledge cancer cells as harmful and works to reduce mesothelioma cells only—not the healthy cells around them (unlike with chemotherapy or radiation).
While this treatment is still considered novel, Dr. Gerard Zalcman presented results in 2017 that showed a one-year survival rate of 51% for patients who underwent immunotherapy.
This method has fewer side effect than more intrusive procedures and is seen as the ‘natural’ approach to mesothelioma treatment. Ongoing trials are currently being conducted by Dr. Anne Tsao, who is looking into how vaccines can boost a patient’s immune system. This study is set to complete in 2019.
3. Gene Therapy
When asbestos enters the body, it enables the genes in the body’s cells to divide. Gene therapy works to fix these broken cells and allow them to attack cancerous cells from within. Doctors modify the genes to create a virus and then inject these genes back into the body to kill the mesothelioma cells.
FDA-approved in 2017, this treatment method hopes to increase patient survival rates by actively improving the immune system, powering the body to eradicate the unhealthy cells. However, the treatment is not yet FDA-approved as a first or second tier treatment, and can only be used as a supporting treatment with surgery, chemotherapy or radiation. Possible side effects include flu-like symptoms for 24-48 hours.
4. Targeted Protein Therapy
Protein therapy is supported by surgical oncologist Dr. Richard Alexander, who specializes in peritoneal mesothelioma. Dr. Alexander is credited with discovering specific proteins in the body that are essential to the growth of mesothelioma and now works on treatments to target these proteins.
He found that when these proteins were eradicated, mesothelioma cells could not grow. This therapy is still in the testing stage, but may one day be used in conjunction with Dr. Alexander’s cytoreductive surgery and HIPEC (Hypothermic Intraperitoneal Chemotherapy) treatment—surgically removing tumors followed by a heated chemotherapy solution to kill remaining cancer cells.
5. Proton Therapy
Dr. Anne Tsao touts proton therapy as one of the most recent novel treatments for mesothelioma. This radiation therapy uses high-energy proton beams to target tumors and remove cancer cells. Proton therapy uses much lower levels of radiation than traditional techniques. It is unique in its ability to target mesothelioma cells while keeping healthy cells intact.
Doctors are always working on new mesothelioma therapies in the hopes to eventually find a cure. As knowledge progresses, more new methods are becoming FDA-approved and accessible to patients. However, many novel therapies are only available through clinical trials. If a treatment is not being offered to you, it may be best to ask your doctor about upcoming clinical trials in your area.