Are there any new treatments for mesothelioma? It’s an appropriate question for May, which is National Cancer Research Month.
The month-long observance is orchestrated by the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) to “highlight the importance of lifesaving research to the millions of people around the world affected by the collection of devastating diseases we call cancer.”
Mesothelioma is a rare and aggressive cancer with a frequently fatal prognosis. Currently, there is not a standard mesothelioma treatment that leads to satisfactory long-term outcomes.
In other words, the standard of care may add months to a survivors’ life, but there is no cure. Yet the battle is far from over, and important progress is made every day.
As a result of advances in cancer research, according to the AACR, more than 16.9 million Americans with cancer are living with, through, and beyond their diagnoses.
Scientists in mesothelioma treatment centers across the country are using the latest research to attack tumors directly and mobilize the body’s natural defenses. Therapies that have proven effective fighting other forms of cancer are now being retooled to take on mesothelioma.
Improving Standard Mesothelioma Treatment
Mesothelioma is caused by exposure to asbestos, a toxic mineral that was widely used for over a century before the health risks were publicized. The cancer most often develops in the lining of the lung (pleural mesothelioma), though it may also occur in the abdominal lining (peritoneal), heart sac (pericardial), or testes.
Because of its location in the lungs and proximity to other major organs, it can be very difficult to treat mesothelioma without causing damage to a person’s body. And because it is such an uncommon disease, it can be even more challenging for researchers to assemble large groups for clinical trials.
Both of these factors limit the number of approved treatments for mesothelioma available today, but the situation is improving.
3 Advances in Mesothelioma Research
Several advances in mesothelioma research offer promising strategies and techniques that could improve the effectiveness of current treatments and possibly open the door to new ways to fight the cancer.
Currently, there is only one approved first-line mesothelioma treatment (pemetrexed and cisplatin). There is no approved second-line treatment in the United States, but some eligible mesothelioma survivors can take part in clinical trials that test out new therapies.
Each of these following advances in mesothelioma research has ongoing clinical trials, with results to be published in 2020 and 2021.
Immune Checkpoint Inhibitors
Immunotherapy is a type of treatment that boosts a person’s immune system in order to attack the cancer in their body. One of the most promising areas of immunotherapy for mesothelioma is the work being done with immune checkpoint inhibitors (CIs).
Healthy cells have immune checkpoints that ensure your immune system doesn’t attack itself. Unfortunately, some tumor cells also have these checkpoints, effectively camouflaging them from the immune cells that get rid of dangerous and deadly cells. By inhibiting those checkpoints, CIs help the immune system recognize the cancer for what it is.
To date, the FDA has not approved any CIs for mesothelioma, but encouraging results from clinical trials suggest that CIs could soon become part of standard treatment.
Cancer vaccines are another form of immunotherapy that helps the body’s immune system attack cancer cells.
Typically, vaccines work by introducing the immune system to a small enough amount of a virus or bacteria that causes the body to build the tools it needs to respond, should the disease reappear.
Cancer vaccines are different in that the tumor is already inside the body, but researchers believe they can use cancer cells in similar ways to create vaccines that train the immune system to better respond to cancer.
Some of the most promising vaccine-based approaches for mesothelioma include dendritic cell (DC) based immunotherapy. Dendritic cells act as messengers in the body that initiate the immune system response to foreign invaders.
In one trial, scientists were able to “train” DCs from patients to better recognize cancer through a novel process. After collecting immature DCs from patients through blood draws, they “loaded” the DCs with allogeneic mesothelioma tumor cell lysate. Think of the lysate as the small amount of bacteria that a regular vaccine introduced to the immune system.
When the modified DCs are injected back into the patient, it kicks the immune system into attack mode.
There are no cancer vaccines currently approved to treat mesothelioma, but there are several in clinical trials in addition to DC-based vaccines, and they represent an important new avenue of treatment.
Tumor Treating Fields (TTFields) are a non-invasive cancer therapy that has been approved to treat mesothelioma by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). This is the first new mesothelioma treatment approved by the FDA in 15 years.
Tumor Treating Fields are created by a portable device that generates alternating electric fields via electrodes, which are attached to the skin over the tumor site.
Applying TTFields to tumors interferes with cell division and replication. This disrupts and slows the cancer’s growth, possibly resulting in the death of cancer cells.
As a mesothelioma treatment, TTFields has shown promise. In one study published in 2019, 97.2% of patients received a clinical benefit from the therapy.
This is a novel technology, and it is being used in combination with standard chemotherapy and radiation treatment regimens. More research is necessary to determine the impact of TTFields, and how they might be used to improve the effectiveness of other modes of mesothelioma treatment.
Navigating the Cost of Mesothelioma Treatment
Some hospitals have a lot more experience dealing with mesothelioma than others, and many patients may be forced to travel in order to receive the best treatment.
Figuring out how to arrange for travel and lodging is not always easy, and it is only one of the many struggles faced by survivors and their families.
Filing a mesothelioma lawsuit may provide financial compensation that can be used to cover the costs associated with treatment. Call one of our experienced mesothelioma advocates today to set up a free legal case review and talk about your options.