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Is there a Cure for Mesothelioma?

For decades, mesothelioma has been known as an incurable cancer that has little hope for a cure. Today, modern science has allowed for breakthroughs in mesothelioma treatments, giving patients greater hope and more chances of remission than ever before.

Like many other cancers, there is no cure for mesothelioma. But today patients have been living longer, more satisfying lives with the disease. In the past, mesothelioma patients were not expected to live more than a few months after diagnosis; today that expectation could be in the years.

Early detection is one of the keys. It can increase the chances of successful medical treatments, therapeutic interventions and improve the patient’s chances of getting into experimental and clinical treatments.

Treatment Options

With only 3,000 patients a year diagnosed with mesothelioma, it would be easy for doctors to rely on the standard cancer treatment. In fact, in the past, only standard cancer treatments -- including chemotherapy, radiation and surgery -- were used to treat mesothelioma. Doctors are now reaching beyond these treatments to utilize ones that are novel and innovative:

Multimodal -- This is a combination of the standard treatments and innovative treatments used in specialized ways. This allows your doctors to analyze your case and put together an individualized treatment plan just for you. In developing your multimodal treatment, doctors evaluate a number of factors:

  • Type of mesothelioma
  • Cancer stage
  • Cancer cell type
  • Overall health
  • Toxicity of the treatment

In making this customized treatment, doctors are able to make adjustments if the patient responds poorly.

Experimental and Emerging Treatments

Because many patients still struggle with success using the conventional mesothelioma treatments, many doctors agree that experimental and emerging treatments are the future of disease eradication:

Gene Therapy -- Gene therapy involves removing a part of damaged DNA (called genes) and replacing them with healthy segments. To do this, doctors inject mesothelioma patients with a modified virus. This virus transports the healthy gene to the damaged DNA. Since gene therapy is still in the early stages, medical researchers are still trying to determine its long-term effects. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not yet approved gene therapy, so it is only available to those who qualify for clinical trials.

Immunotherapy -- In this specialized treatment, doctors manipulate a patient’s immune system to help fight cancer cell growth. There are two standard types of immunotherapy -- active and passive:

  • Active -- In active immunotherapy, a treatment is designed to stimulate the patient’s immune system. This includes the potential for a cancer vaccine customized to the patient’s immune system, thus creating a different vaccine for each patient.
  • Passive -- In passive immunotherapy, the treatments are created in a laboratory setting and are administered to fight off a disease. Passive immunotherapy does not force the immune system to destroy cancer cells.

Photodynamic Therapy -- Also called PDT, this treatment uses light energy to kill mesothelioma cells. In this, a doctor injects a photosensitive drug into a patient’s vein. This drug is known to stick to cancer cells. Days later, the doctor uses a special red light to kill the cancer cells. This procedure can only be used on cancerous cells that can be reached by light, including areas such as the lining of the inner organs. This procedure is usually done on an outpatient basis.

Complementary and Alternative Medicines (CAM) -- While most traditional doctors will not use CAM treatments as a standard of care, they will utilize them alongside standard treatments. These treatments are now seen as an accompaniment to many procedures because they are known to ease both physical pain and mental anguish. Often, these types of therapies are known as integrative medicine or mind-body treatments. They include a variety of treatments:

  • Acupuncture
  • Massage
  • Yoga
  • Aromatherapy
  • Pet Therapy

Even though CAM therapy is not known to cure diseases, it does allow patients to withstand treatments easier.

Latest Clinical Trials and Research

Some of the most encouraging treatment comes in the form of clinical trials and emerging research. Often, mesothelioma patients ask to take part in clinical trials because they allow patients to be on the cutting edge of new research and developing treatments. Even if the research treatment isn’t immediately helpful, many patients take comfort in knowing they are helping work towards a cure for the disease.

When any new drug is introduced to the market, it must undergo a series of testing, or phases:

  • Phase I -- This first phase uses a small amount of participants up to 80 people to review the drug’s safety, the appropriate dosage and the possible side effects.
  • Phase II -- Using up to 300 test subjects, this trial attempts to analyze the effectiveness of the treatment for the target illness and to further analyze its overall safety.
  • Phase III -- During this phase, up to 3,000 people are used to compare the drug’s effectiveness to similar existing treatments. Further testing on the drug’s side effects are also conducted.

Once all three phases are completed and the drug is FDA approved, it is entered into the market while simultaneously undergoing Phase IV of trials. During this phase, also called post-market surveillance, the general public reports problems with the drug.

Clinical trials each have different standards that determine which patients can be involved. Inclusion criteria are the factors that include patients. Exclusion criteria are those that prevent patients from entering a clinical trial. Each trial has individual sets of inclusion and exclusion criteria, but all are based on the same set of standards:

  • Patient age
  • Gender
  • Type and stage of cancer
  • Overall health
  • Treatment history

Often, this inclusion and exclusion criteria is very specific to allow only selected patients to join.

Best Treatment Facilities and Doctors

Because mesothelioma is such a rare disease, many doctors never see it or treat it. That’s why so many mesothelioma patients are misdiagnosed at first. Mesothelioma patients need to find a treatment center that specializes in the disease and have a slate of specialists who can tackle the complexities of this cancer. Many of these doctors and treatment centers are located in the New York, Boston and Philadelphia areas. Other large mesothelioma treatment centers include large cities nationwide:

  • H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center & Research Institute -- Tampa
  • UCLA Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center -- Los Angeles
  • Duke Cancer Institute -- Durham, North Carolina
  • University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center -- Houston

Of the handful of top mesothelioma doctors in the nation, Dr. David Sugarbaker, of Boston's Brigham and Women's Hospital, is known as the best. He has trained many younger doctors who are now located at centers across the nation. Other noted doctors are also trailblazing in the field of mesothelioma:

  • Dr. Harvey Pass -- NYU Medical Center.
  • Dr. David C. Rice -- MD Anderson Cancer Center
  • Dr. Hedy Kindler -- University of Chicago Medical Center
  • Dr. Robert Cameron -- UCLA Medical Center

All mesothelioma patients will have a team of physicians helping them, including oncologists, pulmonologist, radiologists, surgeons and pathologists, just to name a few.

Sources:

Dugdale, David, et. al. Mesothelioma - malignant. Medline Plus. Retrieved from http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/000115.htm

Ray, Mandira, et al. “Malignant Pleural Mesothelioma: An Update on Biomarkets and Treatment.” Chest Journal. 2009. Retrieved from http://journal.publications.chestnet.org/article.aspx?articleid=1090045

Van Thiel, Eric, et al. “European guidelines for the management of malignant pleural mesothelioma.” Journal of Advanced Research. 2011. Retrieved from http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2090123211000312

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