Although currently there are no cures for the asbestos cancer known as mesothelioma, research is moving in a hopeful direction toward finding a cure. Treatments to better manage the disease and live longer are available at this time, and offer a range of options for mesothelioma patients and hope for a greater mesothelioma life expectancy.
Mesothelioma is a type of cancer that affects the mesothelium, which is a lining that surrounds the heart, lung, and abdominal cavity. The major cause of malignant mesothelioma is exposure to asbestos, and in particular the blue ‘crocidolite' and brown ‘amosite' types of asbestos. The asbestos particles, once they have been breathed in, act like tiny needles that work their way into the lung tissue and out into the outer layer surrounding the lungs, the mesothelium. Although how it happens it not presently understood by medical researchers, the presence of asbestos in this area causes cells to mutate, and the cancer to form. Changes to the immune system due to the presence of the asbestos particles may play a role in the formation of the cancer, but more research is needed to fully understand its cause.
The mesothelioma latency period is quite long before mesothelioma symptoms become apparent. What this has meant in the past is that once the cancer is discovered, it is often in latter stages of development, making it harder to treat the cancer. Surgery, mesothelioma chemotherapy and radiation treatments were given to help relieve pain, but recovery levels were not high.
The Road to a Cure
Japanese researchers have developed a new blood test in the continued quest to develop a cure.
Japanese researchers have developed a blood test that could result in earlier detection of mesothelioma. Earlier detection is possible with the Mesomark test, which looks for protein markers that are often tied to cancers. This test may make it possible to stop this disease with surgical procedures in the early stages, and offers hope for a higher success rate.
An early-stage vaccine was recently developed by researchers at the Erasmus Medical Center in the Netherlands that has thus far show fairly promising results. The experimental vaccine utilizes dendritic cell immunotherapy, in which the body’s immune system, is trained to target and destroy malignant mesothelioma cells. The vaccine is comprised of a sample of the patient’s own dendritic immune cells that have been introduced to proteins taken from the mesothelioma tumor. Once reintroduced into the body, these cells have a defense mechanism built in to attack the tumor.
While the trials are in their early stages, the hope is that soon, those who may be at risk for mesothelioma (i.e. those exposed to asbestos), may be able to prevent tumor development altogether, or defend and eliminate developing tumors in their early stages. Thus far, the vaccine has been used only in patients diagnosed with malignant pleural mesothelioma.
Mesothelioma doctors and researchers have also examined the steps a long-time mesothelioma cancer survivor, Paul Kraus, has taken to live with this disease for going on 14 years. Although the treatments he partakes in are considered to be outside traditional clinical oncology, they have worked effectively for him to keep the cancer in check. In addition to oxygen treatments, he also eats a nutrient-rich vegetarian diet, many vitamin supplements, and prays and meditates. He has ozone, which is a form of oxygen, injected into his blood, to form an environment where the cancer cells do not thrive. Because oxygen can cause damage to healthy cells, he counters this effect with anti-oxidants in the foods he eats. Anti-oxidants are also supposed to keep cancers at bay.
Curative Surgical Approaches to Mesothelioma
Dr. David Sugarbaker is currently conducting promising treatment trials through the International Mesothelioma Program in Boston, MA
Dr. David Sugarbaker is widely considered the country’s leading mesothelioma expert, and is currently engaged in the most progressive clinical therapies for malignant pleural mesothelioma. His most aggressive therapy involves the use of surgical resection in the form of an extrapleural pneumonectomy in conjunction intra-operative, intrapleural chemotherapy, with adjuvant radiation therapy. Extrapleural pneumonectomy involves total pneumonectomy (removal of entire affected lung), the removal of the pericardium, the entire pleura, and the diaphragm. Following resection of these internal structures, the pericardium and diaphragm are reconstructed with prosthetic material. While the tumor mass and lung are resected, Cisplatin or other prescribed chemotherapy is applied directly to the surface of the internal organs in the hope to eliminate all remaining tumor cells. Radiation therapy is then administered following the patient’s recovery from surgery.
In patients considered ideal candidates for EPP with adjuvant chemotherapy and radiotherapy, five-year survival rates have thus far been encouraging. Dr. Sugarbaker continues to advocate the use of GEMzar® (Gemcitabine) in many patients who have encountered adverse reactions to Cisplatin. Because the surgery and tri-modal approach utilized by Dr. Sugarbaker is extensive, many patients have utilized physical therapy, and other palliation therapies following treatment to regain mobility and for symptomatic pain relief.
There are also new mesothelioma treatment options that, while currently considered experimental, may provide an effective cure after further testing and research are conducted. Dr. Stephen Cantrell, as reported in Medical News Today, has combined a protein used by the immune system called interferon with cholesterol-lowering medication in a regimen called "Neo-Plas. It is thought that killer cells are activated by the interferon, and thus may help by going after the cancer cells. Early results are hopeful that this may provide a potential cure for mesothelioma and higher numbers of mesothelioma survivors.
Kraus, Paul. Surviving Mesothelioma and Other Cancers: A Patient's Guide. (Raleigh: Cancer Monthly, 2005)
McCabe, Edward. O2xygen Therapies: A New Way Of Approaching Disease. (Energy Publications, 1988).
Staff. "Boysenberries Seen to Impede Asbestos-Induced Mesothelioma". Environmental Health News, 8 February 2007.
Staff. "New Cancer Treatment Stops Aggressive Sarcomas." Medical News Today, 28 February 2008.