People diagnosed with mesothelioma used to be given a month to live. The disease’s latency period and rarity make it one of the hardest to diagnose. With diagnoses being made so late in the game, it’s no wonder patients weren’t living very long.
It’s been a long road (with still a long way to go), but thanks to research and innovations in the field, mesothelioma patients are living longer than ever before. There are more survivors because doctors are more equipped to recognize mesothelioma and new treatments are fine-tuning how patients are treated on an individual basis.
Although there have been many advancements, mesothelioma doctors still struggle with how to treat late-stage patients. These patients have limited treatment options because doctors are reluctant to perform aggressive procedures that may have little to no effect.
Emerging Treatments for Late Stage Patients
Research for mesothelioma treatment began taking a new direction after chemotherapy was finally shown to have a significant impact on the disease in the mid-2000s. Although chemotherapy treatment was having an impact, it didn’t have the effect many doctors hoped for; this led to the realization that a different approach may be necessary.
Now doctors and scientists are aggrandizing their efforts to tackle the disease at the biologic and molecular level. Some recently developed drugs that hold the potential to help advanced stage patients live longer include:
This is one of the most promising new treatments for patients with the worst prognoses. NGR-hTNF works by preventing the growth of new blood vessels in tumors, which stops tumors from growing and the disease from spreading throughout the body.
While this drug isn’t aimed at killing off mesothelioma cells, it does allow patients to live longer with their disease. This is a huge benefit for advanced stage patients for whom metastasis is the greatest issue affecting their life expectancy. NGR-hTNF was recently reported to increase survival rates up to 40 percent in late stage patients.
Clinical trials are underway to test CRS-207 in patients who haven’t yet been treated and aren’t eligible for surgical treatment. This drug is a genetically modified bacteria that is triggered by proteins on the surface of mesothelioma cells. When the patient’s immune system detects the cancer vaccine, it will start attacking it.
Patients in this trial are receiving doses of CRS-207 in addition to cycles of chemotherapy. It is hoped that the combination of the drugs will make treatment more effective by weakening the cancer cells with the vaccine and then killing them off with chemotherapy.
Defactinib is an exciting pharmaceutical development for the treatment of mesothelioma because of its potential to become a maintenance treatment. In other words, it could prevent tumors from growing back after patients have had their first lines of treatment, whether that means surgery or successful chemotherapy treatments.
This drug gets to the core of the disease by blocking signaling between mesothelioma stem cells, which is essential for metastasis. This could benefit late stage mesothelioma patients in the future by helping them keep their disease under control.
Treating Mesothelioma as a Chronic Disease
More and more it seems treatment of mesothelioma is moving toward a chronic disease paradigm. In the past, the only thing doctors could do for patients with advanced mesothelioma was make them comfortable. Now, however, they are moving away from this model of treatment as more possibilities are developing.
Dr. Robert Cameron has called for treating mesothelioma as a chronic disease rather than one that could be cured. This opinion has developed out of the realization that patients can live with mesothelioma for years, defying their prognosis.
However, managing mesothelioma will require the development of drugs capable of keeping the disease from spreading. The clinical trials for drugs like NGR-hTNF and CRS-207 have the potential to pave the road for more treatment for advanced stage mesothelioma patients.
The way advanced mesothelioma is treated also depends on the way doctors look at the disease. Dr. Raja Flores has said the stage of the disease shouldn’t be the primary focus of treatment because not every advanced stage patient is the same.
While the future is looking brighter in modes of treatment, patients should explore all their treatment options—especially clinical trials. Treatment is only as good as the doctor, so finding a doctor with the right mindset is the most important thing a mesothelioma patient can do.