Treatment options for patients suffering from malignant mesothelioma haven’t always had encouraging results. The reasons for this include the long latency period for the disease—there is a considerable time gap between exposure to asbestos, and development of the asbestos cancer. Surgery as a treatment option has had very limited results, and radiation is not considered an effective option as a curative measure, because the amount of radiation needed to treat a tumor that has been left untouched by surgery could be extremely high, and hence very toxic.
Chemotherapy has shown favorable results, and there are a number of drugs that have been approved by the FDA for use on mesothelioma patients. Newer drugs are constantly being researched, as the pharmaceutical industry seeks to find more proactive ways to treat this cancer.
One of the drugs that currently seem to be showing beneficial effects in the treatment of mesothelioma is Gemcitabine.
Gemcitabine has been successfully used in the treatment of a number of other cancers, including pancreatic cancer, bladder cancer and breast cancer. It has also been used effectively in the treatment of certain lung cancers, including plural mesothelioma. Currently, Gemcitabine is under clinical trials as a mesothelioma cancer treatment in combination with Cisplatin, Alimta and Epirubicin.
How it Works
Gemcitabine is generally administered on an outpatient basis by an infusion that typically takes half an hour to administer. It can also be injected intravenously into a vein near the collarbone. Gemcitabine works like most drugs used for chemotherapy, by killing cancer cells through a combination of strong chemical reactions. It also inhibits the growth of the cancer by interfering with the process of DNA replication in other cells.
As a treatment for mesothelioma, Gemcitabine is used in combination with other drugs to have the desired effect. The duration of the infusion is typically around 30 minutes, and the patient may need weekly sessions, lasting for up to seven weeks in all. However, this may vary depending on the stage of mesothelioma the person is in, and the type of cancer he is suffering from.
Like many other chemotherapeutic drugs, Gemcitabine, while destroying the cancer cells, can affect other healthy cells in the body, like those relating to the immune system, and cells related to hair growth. Disruption in the functions of these cells is a naturally occurring side effect of this drug. Hair loss may occur, although this may be represented by a mere thinning of the hair. In many cases, the hair returns to its normal growth pattern once the treatment is complete.
Other Side Effects
A little sickness is natural a few hours after taking the drug, but these symptoms should be alleviated within a day or two. If the patient is nauseated constantly, and suffers other symptoms like bruising and swelling, he should consult his doctor.
Other side effects that are not as severe might include constipation and diarrhea. Patients may find that they urinate less frequently, or pass urine mixed with blood that’s generally dark in color.
Constant fevers may be experienced, and there may also be body aches and other symptoms which are typical of flu. Swelling at the region where the Gemcitabine was administered may also be seen. White patches and sores may appear inside the mouth.
Other more severe symptoms may include numbness in one part of the body, and a sense of imbalance. A person’s ability to walk and move about may be impaired. He may also suffer from blurring in his vision and slurred speech. He might become confused or disoriented.
At the extreme end of the scale, Gemcitabine has been found related to kidney and liver damage. If a person notices symptoms like breathlessness, or fluid retention in the ankles, they should consult their doctor immediately. For this same reason, persons with a prior history of liver and kidney problems are not recommended as prime candidates for Gemcitabine treatment.
Even with some of these symptoms, Gemcitabine is among the more promising treatments for mesothelioma.