Experimental Treatments

Treatment used for mesothelioma is completely dependent on the individual patient. It is determined by things like the location and stage of the cancer, the patient’s age and overall health, and what the patient wants. The usual treatments are surgerychemotherapy, and radiation but the effectiveness of these treatments is limited. A number of experimental therapies, including homeopathy, are being researched and evaluated and at this point, how well they work and their risks are not completely known. However, these experimental treatments can make a bigger difference than traditional treatments.

A patient who is willing to try more aggressive treatments can sign up for a clinical trial and receive one of these therapies still in the experimental stage.

Angiogenesis Inhibition Therapy

There is a bodily process called angiogenesis by which blood is delivered to tumors via the blood vessels and capillaries. It is this blood supply that aids in the growth of tumors. With mesothelioma, the tumors are located very close to tissues that are full of blood, allowing them to grow more quickly. In angiogenesis, inhibition therapy drugs called angiogenic inhibitors are used. The drug inhibits the proteins that allow the angiogenesis process and slow down tumor growth.

Drug Therapies

A chemotherapy drug called Alimta (the brand name of pemetrexed) was the first to receive approval from the FDA to treat mesothelioma patients who have been ruled out for surgery. Almita is in clinical trial and is often used with another drug called cisplatin. It extends survival rates and decreases mesothelioma symptoms.

However, doctors continue to experiment with different combinations of chemotherapy and other drugs in the hope of further increasing life expectancy for mesothelioma patients.  A 2008 study explored the results of bevacizumab, an angiogenesis blocker, and erlotinib, a tyrosine-kinase inhibitor, on mesothelioma patients who had already undergone a round of traditional chemotherapy.  Though none of the patients exhibited complete or partial remission, half of them remained stable for at least two cycles of treatment, and these drugs are still under investigation for patients whose mesothelioma tumors have progressed beyond the possibility of surgery.

Gene Therapy

This type of therapy alters the genetic makeup of cells to fight disease. Cells are injected with genes using viruses that are not able to reproduce any more. These cells are normally taken from a patient and exposed to a virus with a gene that can slow down the growth of tumors. Then the cells are injected into the patient for the gene to do its work.

There are currently many clinical trials going on involving gene therapy. The results have been significant in animal testing, but the same effects are yet to be evident in humans. There is a concern that this type of therapy may have an effect on cells that are not targeted.

Immunotherapy

The human body has an immune system that identifies “foreign” cells and fights them off. Unfortunately, this system does not recognize mesothelioma cancerous cells as being foreign. The goal of immunotherapy is to make the body recognize these abnormal cells with the use of drugs known as biologic response modifiers. This therapy has reduced tumor sizes in patients with mesothelioma in the early stages. There are several immunotherapy drugs used to treat mesothelioma.

Photodynamic Therapy

This therapy involves administering cancer cells with a particular drug that makes them sensitive to certain light wavelengths. These cells are then exposed to the light during a surgical procedure, killing them. This treatment has caused some complications in mesothelioma patients and is not widely used.

Multimodal Therapy

This method combines surgerychemotherapy, and radiation in order to reap the benefits of each treatment and offset each one’s weakness. Examples of multimodal therapies include administering several different chemotherapy drugs or using both surgery and radiation. This approach often proves to work better than using only a single therapy. The risk is that there may be more side effects and side effects that are more severe.

Besides the traditional and experimental therapies that are available, some doctors and patients promote overall wellness using holistic medicine. For instance, changing the diet can improve the immune system and help ease the side effects of chemotherapy. The relaxation benefits of yoga can aid in recovery.

In other words, there are multiple ways to treat mesothelioma. Doctors often recommend that patients take an active role in choosing the therapy or therapies that are best for them.

References:
American Cancer Society
Cancer
Cancer Research Institute
Critical Reviews in Oncology Hematology
The Merck Manuals Online Medical Library