Mesothelioma is a rare form of cancer that usually stems from asbestos exposure. However, it can take 30 – 40 years before the cancer develops and thus thousands of people are still at risk even with no asbestos safety measures in place.
Mesothelioma is usually found in the pleura but can also occur in the pericardium, peritoneum and tunica vaginalis of the testes. Conventional treatment for pleural mesothelioma involved lung resectioning – the cancerous portion of the lung is removed. However, new combination therapy provides hope for patients.
Researchers at the Raymond and Ruth Perlmen School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania have found that a lung sparing surgery combined with photodynamic therapy provides longer overall survival rates compared with the lung resectioning surgery.
Mesothelioma is perhaps the most aggressive and rarest form of cancer that has been discovered with a survival rate of only 9 – 12 months and with only 2,300 people diagnosed with it in the UK per year. 70% of cases diagnosed are pleural mesothelioma which occurs in the outer lining if the lungs and the lining of the inner chest cavity or mediastinum.
The cancer starts as a sheet of malignant cells coating the pleura and thus is virtually impossible to remove. It then grows and starves the organs of the inner chest cavity, including the heart. Chemotherapy and radiotherapy have proven to be mildly successful but there is a high reccurence rate for this particular carcinoma.
The new therapy involves using a lung sparing operation which removes far less tissue than a resection – thus improving quality of life for people who undergo this surgery vs. those who have the resection. The second step of this protocol involves using photodynamic therapy.
Photodynamic therapy involves the use of compounds known as porphyrins. These compounds aggregate in cancerous tissue after being administered and will not collect in healthy tissue. Light of a particular wavelength is then used to activate these compounds deep in the body tissue which activates them and allows them to begin a cascade that induces apoptosis. This has many advantages over radiotherapy and chemotherapy.
Radiotherapy involves using radiation that can damage healthy cells but also passes through the body meaning not all of it is used. Chemotherapy involves the use of toxic chemicals which can in some cases cause cancer elsewhere in the body – for example, tamoxifen – a well known breast cancer drug used for blocking estrogen receptors in breast tissue is carcinogenic.
This is very exciting news for the treatment of mesothelioma but also for all cancers. Photodynamic therapy is an exciting new treatment that’s slowly picking up speed and is undergoing clinical trials for approval in many countries, although it is currently being used in the Orient with much success.
Hopefully, with new laws in place for asbestos use and disposal mesothelioma will become a thing of the past.