Philadelphia, PA - Dr. Joseph S. Friedberg, a top thoracic surgeon at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, got tired of watching his mesothelioma patients die, often within months of undergoing the grueling procedure known as the extrapleural pneumonectomy, a surgery where the entire affected lung is removed.
So Friedberg and his team decided to try another procedure. Instead of removing the lung, they stripped the lung of its tumor then hit residual malignant cells with photodynamic therapy. The result hasn’t been earth-shattering, says Friedberg, but it has bought dozens of malignant mesothelioma patients extra months and even years as well as the ability to better fight the cancer when it recurs.
According to an article in the Philadelphia Inquirer, two years after receiving this type of treatment for their pleural mesothelioma, 27 of the surgeon’s 38 patients are still alive. That’s a whopping 71 percent, a figure that thrills Dr. Friedberg, whose study was just published in The Annals of Thoracic Surgery. The publication had turned down the study the first time it was submitted, with reviewers saying the follow-up time was too short and that the authors were overestimating the projected survival time.
That initial rejection, however, prompted Friedberg to keep giving it the old college try. So he performed the procedure on more seriously ill mesothelioma patients and the results continue to be impressive in comparison to survival rates for patients who have undergone more conventional treatments such as chemotherapy and radiation. Even the most successful chemo treatment for mesothelioma only extends lives for an average of about 3 to 12 months.
Friedberg believes that the light therapy used after the tumor has been removed plays the major role in extending the lives of his patients. He believes it “primes the immune system” and helps it keep any recurring cancer under control. “The cancer comes back more like a house cat than a tiger,” he stresses.
Complications can still occur and the recurring cancer may eventually win, but median survival for the 38 patients Friedberg's team treated from 2004 through 2010 was 31.7 months even though the cancer came back in a median time of 9.6 months. Friedberg and his team at the University of Pennsylvania Cancer Center are gunning for a survival rate of 10 years and are currently searching for better photosensitizers and safer ways to deliver the laser light energy.
“I’d be happy to turn this into a chronic disease, like diabetes,” Friedberg noted. “My goal for my career is to make it truly better for these patients. That’s what I want to do for the rest of my life.”