Among the experimental therapies that are currently being investigated for the treatment of the asbestos cancer mesothelioma, one of the most promising is a technique called photodynamic therapy (PDT).
Mesothelioma, which is an aggressive and fatal cancer that affects the linings of the chest and abdominal cavities, is generally less responsive to traditional treatments like chemotherapy and radiation.
It is rarely caught in time to be operable. A number of other treatments, such as gene therapy, immunotherapy and alternative approaches have all given some hope to sufferers of this deadly cancer. Photodynamic therapy is one of the front-runners in the field of promising treatments. This method combines three separate elements—a nontoxic, photosensitizing compound, oxygen and visible light—to target the cancerous cells. Usually administered during or after surgery in order to remove residual portions of the tumor, it can also be used when surgery is not feasible—as is often the case with mesothelioma patients.
Unlike chemotherapy and radiation, which tend to have a scorched-earth effect on the patient’s body, photodynamic therapy has a clear advantage in that it does not kill non-cancerous cells. This means that the side effects are lessened, and the patient is not debilitated by the treatment. Photodynamic therapy has been approved by the Food and Drug Administration for several kinds of cancer, although its use for mesothelioma remains in the experimental stage.
Roughly 3,000 new cases of mesothelioma are diagnosed each year in the United States, and around the world, 20,000 people die from the disease annually. Nearly all mesothelioma diagnoses can be traced back to contact with asbestos, a mineral material which was once incorporated into many different commercial and consumer products in order to make them fireproof. Although asbestos use peaked in the 1970s, mesothelioma has a long latency period and therefore may not be diagnosed until years, or even decades, after the contact took place.