One of the not‑well‑kept secrets of the past couple years is people with cancer have alternative therapy options.
An alternative to what? The answer is the dreaded chemotherapy, and they’re accessible for mesothelioma patients as well.
The New York Times published a feature article last week highlighting the shift away from chemotherapy to more targeted options. The article, titled “Cancer Without Chemotherapy: A Totally Different World”, focuses on breast cancer and lung cancer, the latter of which accounts for the most cancer cases in the United States.
Pleural mesothelioma, the most common type of mesothelioma, is similar to lung cancer in a variety of ways. Treatment options — and the reasons for choosing one over another — are closely aligned for the two malignancies.
The benefits include fewer short‑ and long‑term side effects from chemotherapy, plus better overall survival data. Not only are people living longer, but they’re living happier.
“It’s a totally different world,” Dr. Lisa Carey, a breast cancer specialist at the University of North Carolina, told the New York Times.
“The big discussion was, ‘Do you give patients two different types of chemotherapy or three?’” said Dr. Robert Vonderheide, a lung cancer specialist at the highly regarded Abramson Cancer Center in Philadelphia. “There was even a clinical trial to see whether four types of chemotherapy would be better.
“Now we are walking in to see even patients with advanced lung cancer and telling them, ‘No chemo.’”
Genetic testing and sequencing provides new medical information about individual cases. This data provides fairly accurate predictions about whether an individual patient would benefit at all from chemotherapy. Many tumors are resistant to the therapy, so they continue growing and spreading while putting the patient through nausea‑ and fatigue‑filled suffering.
According to the New York Times article, only 5‑10% of lung cancer patients survive for five years. The survival rates for mesothelioma are even worse, with the five‑year rate hovering around 5%.
Survival for malignant mesothelioma is usually 12‑16 months, mostly from chemotherapy. Surgery can lead to survival of 2‑3 years, but most patients aren’t candidates. So what options do they have?
The past few years have included the hope‑filled rise of immunotherapy. The therapy targets specific proteins on the surface of cancer cells to kill the cells and help the body’s immune system.
Opdivo and Yervoy, two immunotherapy drugs approved for mesothelioma, have a median survival of 18 months. This is better than chemotherapy. For lung cancer, according to the New York Times article, immunotherapy has doubled life expectancy for patients. There are even stories of patients with no signs of cancer five years after starting immunotherapy.
Other therapies are tumor treating fields, powerful lab‑generated cancer‑killing immune cells and virotherapy. Even intraoperative chemotherapy offers an alternative to the six months of systemic chemotherapy doctors and cancer centers long prescribed to offer patients.
More patients are learning of these options. They’re learning their mesothelioma diagnosis isn’t down to just chemotherapy. Many don’t have to struggle through the discomfort if they’d rather try something else, something potentially life‑saving.
Sources & Author
- Cancer Without Chemotherapy: ‘A Totally Different World’. New York Times. Retrieved from: https://www.nytimes.com/2021/09/27/health/breast-cancer-chemotherapy-lung.html. Accessed: 09/29/2021.
Sources & Author