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The Complexities of Navigating Mesothelioma

June 27, 2016

Recently, we were approached by the Mesothelioma Prognosis Network who discussed more on Mesothelioma and wanted to share more with our community. We're eager to share more and please find one of their guest posts below! Thanks so much for sharing with our community!

Mesothelioma is a rare and especially aggressive cancer that requires an equally aggressive, multidisciplinary treatment plan that often includes a combination of immunotherapy, chemotherapy, surgery and radiation.

There is no definitive cure, but recent advancements have allowed specialists to take a more curative approach. The usual gloom-and-doom prognosis of yesterday has faded.

There is hope on the horizon. Mesothelioma survivors are living longer and better lives today because the latest research has uncovered a future for many.

"Mesothelioma is a diffuse disease that presents unique problems," said renowned thoracic surgeon and mesothelioma specialist Dr. Robert Cameron at the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center and the West Los Angeles VA. “But patients can live for quite some time now if treated correctly. There are options out there today that were not available previously. The trouble is many doctors don’t even know about them yet.”

Unlike breast, prostate, lung and other more common cancers, mesothelioma remains a mystery to many in the medical profession, including oncologists who rarely treat it or even see it.

Less than 3,000 new cases are diagnosed annually in the United States.

A key to treatment is finding a specialty center with experience in treating this particular disease. In the past, a mesothelioma diagnosis came with a 6-12 month life expectancy.

Some mesothelioma survivors today, though, are living, 3-5 years and beyond because of developing treatment advances and an aggressive multidisciplinary approach.

"We're not moving mountains, but we are making some steady progress," said mesothelioma specialist and thoracic surgeon Dr. Prashant Shah at the Fox Chase Cancer Center in Philadelphia. "There is real reason for hope now. There still is a long way to go, but we've come a long way, too. I think attitudes are changing."

A handful of specialty centers like Fox Chase, the UCLA Medical Center, Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston and the Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa have raised the bar for mesothelioma treatment.

Mesothelioma is caused by inhaling or ingesting asbestos fibers, which become lodged in the thin membrane surrounding the lungs or abdomen and eventually cause inflammation and scarring. It can lead to a number of respiratory diseases, including asbestosis, lung cancer and mesothelioma.

And while the cancer takes decades to develop, it is difficult to diagnose early and even tougher to control once it begins to metastasize.

The hope is that mesothelioma can soon be treated as more of a chronic disease such as diabetes or hypertension and less like the deadly cancer it is. The latest philosophy in treatment is moving away from the toxic therapies of the past and more toward the less toxic immunotherapy drugs.

Some of the emerging treatments, many of which are being tested in clinical trials today, include:

  • Immunotherapy uses the body's own immune system to fight off the cancer. These drugs work by unmasking the tumor cells and letting the immune system do its work naturally. Immunotherapy often is used in combination with other treatments.
  • Gene therapy works by manipulating a patient’s own genes. By targeting and repairing faulty genes, doctors can help a patient’s own immune system fight off the cancer. This also has been used in combination with other treatments.
  • Photodynamic therapy is another experimental treatment that involves specific drugs and targeted light energy to kill the cancer cells. It is still in the early stages of testing with mesothelioma, but it has worked with certain other cancers.

Newer chemotherapy combinations, more targeted radiation and better surgical techniques also have contributed to the optimism surrounding treatment.

It is critical to find a specialty center where the best and latest treatments are being used.

Tim Povtak is a content writer for Mesotheliomaprognosis.com.

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