A small albeit significant fraction of the world population is plagued every year with the often deadly mesothelioma that affects the linings of the body’s vital organs such as lungs, heart, and the abdomen. Due to the rarity and the specialty of the disease, curing mesothelioma and easing the patient’s’ pains is a challenge. Since the early 1980s, constant and aggressive research in the field of mesothelioma has successfully traced this rare form of cancer to asbestos exposure and has found several treatment approaches for the same. All these efforts have successfully managed to bring down the number of mesothelioma cases as compared to the past decade.
Now, doctors and researchers across the globe are targeting the discovery of ways to alleviate the mesothelioma patient’s pain and suffering both during and after the treatment.
The initial treatment for mesothelioma progresses as all generic cancer treatments do, with a surgery, chemotherapy or radiation or a combination of these treatments (known as a multimodal mesothelioma treatment). If mesothelioma is detected early, surgery proves to be the best way to ensure a higher survival rate. Two targeted surgeries, extrapleural pneumonectomy (EPP) and pleurectomy/decortication (P/D) are largely used to excise mesothelioma infected organs in the body. While EPP has shown lower remission rates, the patient’s’ lungs become weak after the surgery. P/D, on the other hand, is more widely accepted due to its reduced complications.Clinical trials to test the effect of drugs used for kidney cancer and melanoma on mesothelioma cells are underway.
Apart from the conventional means, doctors and researchers have discovered better and less painful forms of treatments as well. Photodynamic Therapy (PTD) is an emerging form of therapy that injects light activated drugs into the patient’s’ veins which then spread through the rest of the body and settles down in cancerous cells. Once this happens, the affected area is exposed to red light from the end of a tube which activates the settled drugs in cancer less. This action kills the cancerous cells in a targeted way, is less painful than traditional drugs that spread throughout the body and cause fewer side-effects. In a similar fashion, immunotherapy hopes to use the body’s own immune system to fight against the diseases. A sample of immune cells are removed from the patient’s body and are treated in different ways with drugs such as tremelimumab before injecting it back through a blood transfusion. A set of stronger immune cells now fight the cancer cells in the body. An indirect approach to immunotherapy is virotherapy or treating mesothelioma with viruses. These special kinds of viruses are injected into the body to make the immune system work in such a way that they infect and weaken only the cancer cells.
Another advanced treatment option called gene therapy alters or repairs the cancer cells at the gene level. The genes are altered in such a way that the immune system itself starts attacking the cancer cells.
Although some of these treatments are in their infancy, such variegated approach to fight mesothelioma is a ray of hope for patients. A few years down the line, advanced forms of mesothelioma treatments can improve the quality of life for patients, minimize the side-effects of the treatment, and improve their survival rates.