Although the American Cancer Society (ACS) reports that mesothelioma may take between 20 and 50 years to develop from the time of first asbestos exposure and diagnosis, a research study published in the Journal of Medical Case Reports (JMCR) says not always. In the study, researchers evaluated a man who was exposed to asbestos as an adult for around five years before being diagnosed with the disease at just 61 years old. The average age at the time of diagnosis is 72.
The patient was admitted to the hospital with chest pain and was quickly diagnosed with malignant pleural mesothelioma (MPM) (sarcomatoid type). According to the study, “the patient refused any invasive therapies including surgery and radiotherapy, and was therefore treated with hyperthermia and systemic chemotherapy with agents such as cisplatin and irinotecan. He underwent three hyperthermia sessions and a single course of chemotherapy without any severe complications.”
Just one month after treatment, a follow-up computed tomography scan showed no definitive abnormality in the thoracic space. The patient survived without any evidence of disease for more than seven years. According to the ACS, the 5-year survival rate for all stages of mesothelioma combined is 9% for people diagnosed between 2008 and 2014. However, reports the ACS, the numbers don’t take everything into account. People now being diagnosed with MPM may have a better outlook than these numbers show, so outcomes will vary greatly from patient to patient.
How is Mesothelioma Treated?
Mesothelioma is typically treated with a combination of radiation, surgery and chemotherapy, but many researchers think newer treatments are the future of standard of care for MPM. Dr. Prasad Adusumilli, a thoracic surgeon at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center (MSKCC), believes CAR T-cell therapy will be part of future, standard-of-care treatment for mesothelioma. And just months ago, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the portable NovoTTF-100L System in combination with pemetrexed plus platinum-based chemotherapy as a first-line treatment of unresectable, locally advanced or metastatic MPM. This marks the first FDA approval for a mesothelioma treatment in 15 years.
Other newer forms of treatment being used or in varying stages of testing include:
- Alternating Electric Fields (tumor treating fields)
Electrodes attached to the skin, now with the assistance of the newly approved NovoTTF-100L System, generate mild electric currents that are thought to affect tumor cells more than normal cells.
- Gene Therapy
Gene therapy attempts to add new genes to cancer cells to make them easier to kill.
Immunotherapy drugs help the body’s immune system attack cancer cells.
- Photodynamic Therapy (PDT)
A light-activated drug causes a chemical change that “turns on” the drug so it kills the cancer cells.
- Targeted Therapy
Targeted therapy drugs target the changes that make cancer cells different from normal, healthy cells, and they sometimes work when chemo drugs don’t.
- Vaccine Therapy
Cancer vaccines are aimed at getting the immune system to attack the cancer.
Because mesothelioma is easiest to treat and has the best outcomes when it’s found early, a number of diagnostic tools are in varying stages of development too. Some of the most promising include MESOMARK, the world’s first serum-based biomarker sensitive for mesothelioma, SOMAmer, Fibulin-3 Test, and Human MPF Elisa Kit.
While there is no cure for mesothelioma (yet), reports on outcomes from the ACS, along with a growing number of survivor stories, plus the development of newer, more effective treatment combinations and diagnostic, are giving hope to the newly diagnosed patients.