Should Lung Cancer Screening Guide Include Asbestos Exposure?

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recently recommended that heavy smokers receive annual lung cancer screenings using low-dose CT scans instead of X-rays.

The recommendation is limited to longtime, pack-a-day smokers ages 55 to 79. However, some patient advocacy groups feel the guidance should be expanded to include those who may smoke less but have other risk factors such as exposure to asbestos, a known lung carcinogen, according to a recent posting on Boston.com.

Because of the strength and heat resistance of its fibers, asbestos was used in a wide range of commercial and residential building products, as well as in automobile parts, fabrics, gaskets, and many types of fire-resistant coatings. We now know that exposure to asbestos can result in deadly diseases such as pleural mesothelioma, a rare cancer that occurs in the membranes lining the lungs.

It can take decades for symptoms related to pleural mesothelioma to appear, which makes it critical that those exposed to asbestos-containing materials be tested. Most asbestos exposure occurs on the job but some occupations are more at risk than others. Those who worked in the construction and automobile industries, in shipyards, or spent time on U.S. Navy ships are at higher risk of exposure and should be tested regularly by a medical professional familiar with asbestos-related illnesses.

While testing for cancer comes with its own risk of excess exposure to radiation from CT scans—the preferred testing method—the task force determined that the benefits outweigh the risks for certain patients. A CT or computed tomography scan is better at identifying tumors, according to Boston.com The new recommendation could help doctors spot cancer earlier on, which is key to the treatment of mesothelioma.

If you or a loved one has been exposed to asbestos and received a diagnosis of mesothelioma, you may want to learn about potential legal action. Call Sokolove Law today and a paralegal trained in asbestos litigation can guide you through your options.


New York Politician Undergoing Mesothelioma Treatment

A prominent New York state politician is fighting mesothelioma with an experimental new treatment trial, Long Island’s Newsday is reporting (subscription required).

William J. Lindsay, 67, is the presiding officer of Long Island’s Suffolk County Legislature. Prior to holding public office, Lindsay worked as a labor leader and construction electrician. It was while working in construction that Lindsay believes he was exposed to the asbestos that caused his illness.

The article notes that Lindsay will be starting treatments next week at the National Institutes for Health in Bethesda, Md. Treatment for this rare (but often aggressive) cancer will include one week of therapy followed by a three week break; then there will be another week of treatment, and three weeks off.

Lindsay’s physicians will determine how to proceed with his mesothelioma treatment after these two rounds of treatment, says the article. Despite his treatment, Lindsay plans to return to work on March 19 for a legislative meeting.

Lindsay has already undergone conventional mesothelioma treatments, including surgery to remove a lung early last year, and radiation. In August, his doctor pronounced him cancer-free, but told him in January that the mesothelioma had returned.

Even today electricians are at a high risk of exposure to asbestos-containing building materials, such as insulation and drywall. They encounter these when running wires through older buildings. Often, this material will need to be cut or drilled to run the wires, releasing microscopic asbestos into the air. Inhaling even a small amount of asbestos can lead to asbestos related diseases such as mesothelioma and lung cancer.

If you have been diagnosed with mesothelioma or another asbestos-caused disease from exposure to asbestos at a jobsite, you may be entitled to financial compensation. To learn more about your legal options, please Sokolove Law for a free case evaluation.


News from Mesothelioma Drug Companies

The one-man Chief Financial Officer, President, and Corporate Secretary of Alfacell, Lawrence Kenyon, has resigned his posts from Alfacell. He plans to remain on the board and continue as the acting CFO, president, and corporate secretary until a replacement can be made after January 31, 2009. Kenyon’s resignation was spurred by his acceptance of the position of vice president of finance at a rival drug company, Par Pharmaceutical Inc. Alfacell is best known as the maker of the mesothelioma drug ONCONASE, which has been granted orphan drug and fast track status by both the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the EU. Alfacell is paring down its extraneous expenses in order to focus its efforts on pushing through a rolling new drug application for ONCONASE in 2009.

On December 10, 2008 CanBas Co. Ltd., working with Takeda Pharmaceutical Co. Ltd., released news that their drug to treat malignant pleural mesothelioma , CBP 501, has entered Phase II trials. This puts the drug one step closer to being fully approved for use in cancer patients. The two companies began their work together on a new mesothelioma in March 2007. At the time, the rights for developing, marketing, and manufacturing the drug on a global level were granted to Takeda and its cancer drug subsidiary, Millennium: The Takeda Oncology Company. Millennium will be charged with the promotion of CBP 105 as well as pushing to get it approved worldwide. CBP 105 works in a similar manner to other chemotherapy drugs in that it acts to arrest the cell cycle of cancer cells. During Phase I trials, CBP 105 was combined with other chemotherapeutic drugs. It was shown that the whole was greater than the sum of its parts. The combination of these drugs seemed to boost the ability of the therapy to kill cancer cells more so than either drug alone. CBP 105 will undergo Phase II trials on its path toward proving its safety and effectiveness and eventually, it is hoped, worldwide acceptance.


Mesothelioma Drug Study Shows Promise While Another Drug Company Finds Its Future Foggy

A drug developed by the Proteolix, Inc., pharmaceutical company, carfilzomib, has shown promising results in its first round of clinical trials. Carfilzomib acts as a proteasome inhibitor, which targets specific aspects of the cancer without doing excessive harm to noncancerous cells. Fourteen patients in the first set of trial with solid tumors whose condition had previously failed to be improved by at least two other drugs, including at least one mesothelioma patient, were treated safely and some showed a stabilization of their cancer. Carfilzomib appears to be a safe and well-tolerated drug following its first round of testing. The most prevalent side effects of the drugs included fatigue, nausea, headache, diarrhea, and constipation.

For most patients, the side effects were either temporary, or they were successfully reversed. The most disturbing side effect of carfilzomib — peripheral neuropathy, or slight tingling and numbness in the extremities — was not severe enough in any of the patients to warrant a change or stoppage of their dosage of carfilzomib. Following the first set of clinical trials, carfilzomib began Phase II trials in May 2008, targeting solid tumors in non-small cell lung, ovarian, small cell lung, and renal cell cancers. It is also being studied in a second phase as a combination therapy with other chemotherapies. More information about these continuing clinical trials with carfilzomib can be seen at http://www.clinicaltrials.gov. Alfacell, the maker of ONCONASE, a successfully tested mesothelioma drug, included an audit option in its Annual Report filed on October 14, 2008. As a Nasdaq listed company, Alfacell was required to announce its audit option per Nasdaq Marketplace Rule 4350 (b)(1)(B). Any company receiving an audit option must announce to the public that an auditor has found sufficient evidence that there is doubt about the company being able to continue operations. The audit option announcement does not change its Annual Report for the fiscal year that ended on July 31st, 2008.


Frogs Used to Develop Mesothelioma Drug

In order to gain approval for any new drug, it must undergo years of testing and clinical trials. The newest drug to treat mesothelioma , Onconase (ranpirnase), proved to be no different in this requirement. Onconase is a drug created by the pharmaceutical company Alfacell. It has been derived from the egg cells of Northern Leopard Frogs (Rana pipiens), and in the experiments done using the drugs on tumors, it seems to have an effect on halting their growth. The last stage of clinical trials before approval, Phase III, showed that this drug proved to be effective in patients with malignant mesothelioma whose cancer failed to be slowed by chemotherapy. Scientists wanted to know why Onconase seemed to work better than other treatments in these patients.

Many possibilities for Onconase’s effectiveness were tested in a study whose results were recently published in Cell Cycle. It seemed that the drug had an anti-tumor property and worked by targeting the small interfering RNA (siRNA). RNA forms play an integral role in gene and cell replication, which runs out of control in tumors. By slowing or stopping the cell replication of tumors, cancers can be halted in their progression. In the study, by honing in on siRNA, Onconase was able to prevent the quelling of a common gene –glyceraldehyde 3-phosphate dehydrogenase (GAPDH). This led the scientists to conclude that Onconase would indeed by effective in controlling the siRNA agent during tumor cell replication and growth. This study further enforces the studies behind the clinical trials which led to Onconase’s approval.


Mesothelioma Patients Sought for Ongoing Clinical Trial

A new device for treating mesothelioma is being studied by the Swiss Group for Clinical Cancer Research. To be conducted, the trials will need patients suffering from mesothelioma to volunteer. The device — the Electronic Tool for Monitoring Symptoms and Syndromes Associated With Advanced Cancer (nicknamed E-MOSAIC) — is being tested to see whether or not its use in monitoring mesothelioma symptoms helps to control them. The goal of the study is to determine if the E-MOSAIC is an effective means of communication of symptoms between doctor and patient. If it is, better courses of treatment can be sought. Most drug trials examine products to treat or cure a disease, but the E-MOSAIC is intended to be tested as a palliative treatment.

Palliative treatments are those that seek to improve quality of life in patients undergoing other treatments for their disease. The E-MOSAIC is being considered as a means of reducing pain and suffering. Ideal candidates for the study will be those 18 years old or older, suffering from an advanced cancer that results in pain, appetite loss, weight loss, fatigue, depression, and/or anxiety. Patients must also be taking palliative anticancer treatment continuously every week or every other week as an outpatient. Health professionals conducting the E-MOSAIC trial will rule on final eligibility. Those interested should contact Dr. Florian Strasser, MD, at the Kantonsspital in St. Gallen, Switzerland. The study will consist of two randomly assigned groups. Both will use an electronic hand-held device, but one group will use it to monitor their symptoms and diet. The second group will record diet and specific symptoms such as pain, shortness of breath, loss of appetite, fatigue, nausea, depression, and overall well-being. Weekly evaluations by nurses will also be made of both groups. An increase in quality of life for mesothelioma patients and those suffering from other forms of cancer is the goal of the study. The trials are expected to be finished by July of 2010.


Eli Lilly Mesothelioma Drug Approved by the FDA

Alimta, a new first-line drug to treat non-squamous mesothelioma , has been approved by the United States Food and Drug Administration. Its approval is based upon its combination with cisplatin to aid those with locally advanced, metastatic non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC). Those with squamous non-small cell forms of lung cancer do not have FDA approval to take the drug, but the majority of new lung cancer cases are NSCLC. Use of Alimta as a first line treatment of non-squamous, advanced NSCLC is the third use for the drug to receive U.S. FDA approval. It has been used since 2004 in conjunction with cisplatin for patients with unresectable malignant pleural mesothelioma . In 2004, Alimta was also approved in the US for use as a single-agent for second-line advanced or metastatic NSCLC patients. This has been changed by the FDA to be only for those with non-squamous forms of lung cancer.

A phase III trial resulted in the FDA’s approval for the new use of Alimta. The trial compared the use of combining Alimta with cisplatin against a combination of Gemzar with cisplatin (GC). Results of the study showed an increase in survival rates by one month in those with non-squamous NSCLC cancer against the Gemzar combination. In the group with squamous NSCLC, the survival rates were better by one month with the Gemzar and cisplatin. Patients using the Alimta-cisplatin combination showed fewer toxins in their blood, required fewer blood transfusions, and lowered the use of growth factors when compared to Cisplatin-cisplatin. Common side effects in those taking the Alimta-cisplatin regime included: vomiting, neutropenia, leukopenia, anemia, stomatitis/pharyngitis, thrombocytopenia, and constipation. This new approval adds to the ever-growing list of available treatments for many malignant and often deadly forms of cancer including pleural mesothelioma.


US FDA Grants Orphan Status to Mesothelioma Drug

A new drug – MolMed’s NGR-hTNF (trade name Arenegyr)- has been granted orphan status by the United States Food and Drug Administration for the treatment of the rare cancer, mesothelioma . It already received the same designation in June of 2008 from the European Union. Orphan drugs are those which treat rare diseases whose sufferers have few or no other options. The orphan status allows for the manufacturer to exclusively market the drug for seven years in the United States and 10 years in the European Union, providing an incentive for drugmakers to produce these pharmaceuticals despite the small market for them. Mesothelioma is a cancerous growth affecting the membrane of the lungs – the mesothelium. The disease almost always results from inhaled asbestos fibers, particles, or dust. Asbestos was once a popular construction material, used in everything from ceiling tiles to insulation.

Decontamination of buildings which had used asbestos is an ongoing problem to this day. While the absolute numbers have been low, incidences of mesothelioma have been increasing over the last few years. This phenomenon is likely due to patients who were exposed to asbestos years ago finally developing the disease. Unlike many other diseases, it can take decades after exposure before a patient manifests symptoms of mesothelioma. This makes pinpointing the exact source of the asbestos exposure difficult. Current therapies for mesothelioma – radiation, chemotherapy, and surgery – have largely proven ineffective. The life expectancy after a malignant pleural mesothelioma diagnosis is only 6 to 12 months. The orphan status was granted to NGR-hTNF after it demonstrated a record of safety and efficiency during its Phase II trials. Finalized results of those trials is expected in December of 2008, but initial findings show that when it us used in patients who have also been treated with chemotherapy, survival rates improve and disease progression is controlled. The drug is designed to destroy tumors in the mesothelium, thereby killing the cancer. The drug is also currently undergoing Phase I testing as a combination with other drugs to treat other forms of cancer.


Mesothelioma Treatment Proves Effective

In a rare case of treatment proving effective against malignant mesothelioma , Heather Von St. James of Minneapolis seems to be winning the battle of her life. Two and a half years ago, Von St. James was found to have a malignant tumor in her lung. Diagnosed with mesothelioma, a surgical treatment route was sought. After undergoing a procedure to remove her left lung, the lining around her heart, half of her diaphragm, her sixth rib and a few lymph nodes to be on the safe side, the cancer can no longer be found. While Von St. James claims that she is free of cancer, her doctor, Dr. David Sugarbaker of the International Mesothelioma Program at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, remains skeptical. A mesothelioma diagnosis is often a death sentence with the end coming rapidly in just 12 to 18 months after diagnosis.

The success seen in Von St. James’ treatment makes doctors more optimistic about future possible surgical cures for the disease. Despite intense research efforts, radiation and chemotherapy treatments for mesothelioma have not proven effective as other than palliative care. The surgical option pursued by Von St. James, though radical, might be the most effective choice available for mesothelioma sufferers. Mesothelioma is a lung cancer that is almost always caused by exposure to asbestos. Pinpointing the precise source can be difficult since it may be decades after exposure before a person develops the disease. In Von St. James’ case, she is certain that she was exposed to asbestos dust on her father’s work clothes. Since her father had been a construction worker with Ainsworth-Benning, Von St. James decided to sue the company in 2006 in the state of Minnesota. However, the suit has been rejected in the courts because they do not have sufficient connections in Minnesota.