Mesothelioma is a very rare but very aggressive form of cancer that is caused by prolonged exposure to asbestos. The latency period for mesothelioma is very long, with some people being asymptomatic for as much as 50 years. Furthermore, symptoms usually do not start to appear until the cancer is in the third or fourth stage, which means it is incredibly hard to treat. Prognosis for mesothelioma is usually just 12 to 18 months.
Treatment options for this type of cancer are limited. In cases where it is caught early enough, surgery, radiotherapy and chemotherapy will generally be offered visit their website. However, most of those who are given this treatment only have a marginally improved outcomes.
“For cancers that can’t be removed with surgery, chemo may be the main treatment (alone or along with radiation therapy). Chemo may shrink the cancer of slow its growth, but it is very unlikely to make it go away completely.”
Research in Chemotherapy and Treatment for Mesothelioma
Because chemotherapy is so often unsuccessful, leading the patients to relapse, further research are currently being completed into other treatment options. Some of these experimental treatment options, including immunotherapy and gene therapy, have shown some positive results. In many forms of cancers, 2nd line chemotherapy may be offered.
“A break with the primary treatment and an adoption of a new regimen signals “second-line treatment” The first-line therapy may not have worked, may have had some limited efficacy, or may have produced side effects, damaged organs in the body or jeopardized the patient’s life.”
Because first line therapy is so rarely effective in mesothelioma, second line therapy is usually offered as well. In only a few cases, this second line therapy involves a further round of chemotherapy. This is because chemotherapy has significant side effects, and few people with mesothelioma have the strength to go through two bouts. However, researchers at the University of Athens have conducted a test on its efficacy. This came after numerous reports were released stating that 2nd line chemotherapy may be beneficial in the treatment of mesothelioma.
“Second-line therapies are being increasingly used in the clinical practice because patients are frequently still healthy at the time of disease progression. However, the role of these treatments in MPM is unproven, and the optimal regimens still remain to be defined. In pemetrexed-naive patients, data from a randomized trial vs. best supportive care suggest the use of single-agent pemetrexed as a standard second-line treatment. This evidence is supported also by the results of the Expanded Access Programs. To date, there is still no standard approach for the growing population of pemetrexed-pre-treated patients.”
Why Is Mesothelioma So Hard to Treat?
There are numerous reasons as to why mesothelioma is so difficult to treat. One of the main reasons is that most patients do not start to show symptoms until the cancer is in its very advanced stages. Not only is the cancer, at that point, much more advanced, but patients are often too weakened to sustain aggressive forms of cancer. Another reason why it is hard to treat is because it is hard to diagnose.
“Though there are many symptoms of mesothelioma, it is hard to diagnose because many of the symptoms are shared by other diseases. A doctor will typically check for lumps during a physical checkup and may also order X-ray and computerized tomography (CT) scans to determine if the patient’s body has any abnormalities consistent with mesothelioma.”
Finally, the cancer is hard to treat because it is so poorly understood. With only between 2,000 and 3,000 new cases found in this country each year, it is an area of specialization and few doctors decide to go into this specialization. That being said, a lot of research is being conducted into mesothelioma in order to improve prognosis, and diagnosed patients are often recommended to take part in clinical trials.
2nd Line Chemotherapy for Mesothelioma
One such clinic trial was recently completed by the University of Athens, which looked specifically at the efficacy of 2nd line chemotherapy in patients with recurring mesothelioma. While they did note some individual improvements, the finding was that the treatment did not improve overall outcomes.
“The heterogeneity of the three distinctive 2nd line chemotherapy groups have a negative impact in the reproducibility and interpretation of the results. This study concurs with the literature in that until today no satisfactory 2nd line chemotherapy agent exists for patients with mesothelioma.”
While this will come as a disappointment to many mesothelioma patients, their families, and their physicians, it is a significant step forward. In modern medicine, treatments are often found by ruling out other forms of treatment. While 2nd line chemotherapy does offer some marginal benefits, these are negligible. As a result, patients will continue to be offered the opportunity to take part in clinical trials, either to confirm or negate these results, or to try other forms of treatment.