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Scientists are continuously researching new treatments and better ways to treat, prevent, and diagnose mesothelioma. Much still needs to be learned about treating these cancers. It is because of advances in therapy due to research that mesothelioma survivors are living much longer. There is hope for tomorrow.

The Role of Asbestos in Mesothelioma

Understanding how these tiny airborne fibers cause cancer is an important part of learning how to best treat it. Some of the recent research has focused on understanding how asbestos causes the mesothelial cells and their DNA to become cancer.

Researchers are beginning to learn more about asbestos fibers and which ones can cause cancer. This is important as asbestos continues to be a public health concern. Research is underway to learn what levels of exposure will considered safe, if any exposure at all. The dangers of using asbestos is now well-known and regulations in the U.S have been implemented to protect workers from the exposure to asbestos.

Research in the Treatment of Mesothelioma

Although mesothelioma is a difficult cancer to treat, researchers and doctors continuously improve upon the current treatments. The role of each type of treatment- surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy, are still being studied. One promising option for some patients that is currently being studied is a combination of treatment. More options in the form of newer types of treatments are also being studied and may provide patients a promising future.

The following treatments are currently being researched for their ability to treat mesothelioma:

  • Chemotherapy– Chemotherapy drugs slow the growth of tumors and can also shrink them. Generally the effects are time limited and newer chemotherapy drugs are in the process of being studied.
  • Photodynamic therapy– (PDT) is a light activated drug which is injected into a vein and its technique is currently being studied. With this treatment the drug spreads throughout the body after injection. It usually collects in cancer cells and a few days after injection, a tube with a red light positioned at the end is placed into the chest. This light will cause a chemical change in the cells as it activiates the drug and kills the cancer cells. Only the areas that are exposed to this light are active which causes fewer side effects than the drugs that will spread throughout the entire body. Studies are being conducted in several clinical trials.
  • Targeted drugs– Generally speaking, chemotherapy drugs are limited in their effect on mesothelioma. Researchers are constantly developing new drugs as they learn about the way the cancerous cells change and become mesothelioma. Targeted drugs will sometimes work on mesothelioma when the chemo drugs do not.
  • Virotherapy– This therapy attempts to make cancer cells easier to kill by adding new genes to them. In some cases, viruses that have been genetically modified in a lab are introduced into the pleural cavity and infect the cancer cells. The virus helps attack the cancer cells by turning activating the immune system. Although more research is needed, this approach has been found to slow or shrink the growth of the cancer.
  • Immunotherapy– Cancer vaccines are used to attempt to get the immune system to attack the cells that are causing cancer. The patient’s immune cells are removed and treated to react to tumor cells. They are then placed back into the patient through a blood transfusion in hopes that the body’s immune system will then fight the cancer. Clinical trials are also underway for this treatment.

New Trials, New Drugs Bring Hope

Recently, the National Comprehensive Cancer Network changed treatment recommendations for pleural mesothelioma. They believe this new approach will significantly extend patient survival.

A new drug bevacizumab, also known as Avastin, has been added to the combination chemotherapy treatment of pemetrexed and cisplatin.

Avastin has successfully treated lung and colorectal cancers by inhibiting the formation of new blood vessels in tumors. This has effectively slowed the growth of the cancer cells. It is expected that the FDA will change its standard-of-care regimen that has been in place since 2004.

Researchers believe that the drug bevacizumab lowers the risk of death by 23 percent. For patients with mesothelioma in its early stages, surgery is still recommended. For most patients with this incurable cancer, surgery is not an option and thus would benefit from this newer drug.

The Future of Treatment

While there aren’t any guarantees about successful treatments with clinical trials, many people have found unexpected success. Clinical trials are the future of treatment. It is where new cancer treatments are being researched and developed. Not only may participating in a clinical trial be beneficial to the patient. It can also have benefits to others as scientists continue to search for new therapies.

Do not hesitate to ask about therapies that are still in development such as immunotherapy, photodynamic therapy and immunotherapy. They are currently being used in clinical trials and perhaps will someday become the standard of treatment.

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