What is a Medical Oncologist?
A medical oncologist is a doctor who specializes in use of medications, such as chemotherapy, hormones and analgesics (medications to reduce pain) in the management of cancer specifically, in this case, mesothelioma.
Since mesothelioma is a rare cancer, it is possible that the medical oncologist working with a patient may have only treated a small number of mesothelioma cases. This in no way means that he or she is unqualified, but merely that the doctor’s knowledge of this specific type of cancer may be limited. If it is necessary for the patient and their family to deal with a medical oncologist that is more specialized in the areas of pleural or peritoneal mesothelioma, there are medical oncologists at larger cancer centers or research institutes who might better fit ones needs.
These oncologists are there with a patient every step of the way from the moment of diagnosis thought the course of the treatment. They care for patients by educating them about their form of cancer and the stages of its development. They are also there to discuss treatment options and making educated recommendations. They also monitor the care and treatment during the course of the disease as well as work with the patient to improve their quality of life and management of pain during the process.
Many medical oncologists have pushed for clinical trials to investigate new trends in the treatment of both stage I and II of malignant mesothelioma. Results of the trials have found both stage I and II intra-pleural immunotherapy and systematic chemo-immunotherapy to be successful. The most encouraging results obtained from trials investigating systemic chemotherapy were following treatment with cisplatin, 5-fluorouracil, mitomycin C and etoposide, where an overall response rate of 38% and an overall median survival of 16 months were achieved.
In another clinical trial, Dr. Hedy Kindler, Associate Professor of Medicine Director of the Mesothelioma Program at the University of Chicago had some promising results. She and her team found that patients treated using pemetrexed (Alimta) with cisplatin improved their quality of life. Not only did the treatments improve fatigue, appetite and activity level, it also improved shortness of breath and lung function in patients. Thanks to this data, the FDA approved Alimta for the treatment of mesothelioma in 2003, making this the only FDA approved drug for mesothelioma.
So how can the medical field make progress against this disease? If doctors had a clearer understanding of the biology of mesothelioma, by way of more funding for basic science research, hope for the future could be promising. Also, since mesothelioma has a latency period of 20 to 50 years, early detection is key. Learning how to use new biomarkers and developing new ones could help oncologists combat this disease in its early stages.
Be Involved, Ask Questions!
As with any doctor, it is comforting to know that the patient’s medical oncologist is there for them and their family and they are willing to answer any questions one might have regarding treatment, chemotherapy, or any other mesothelioma related questions. Being diagnosed with mesothelioma can be a very frightening time for a patient and their family, and if obtaining more information regarding the process would make everyone more comfortable, the oncologist will be there to help.