SMART for Mesothelioma

Surgery for Mesothelioma After Radiation Therapy (SMART) is a multimodal approach to mesothelioma treatment. It controls tumors and shrinks the cancer prior to surgery.

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Written by Jenna Campagna, RN

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Important Facts About SMART for Mesothelioma

  • SMART began at Princess Margaret Cancer Centre in Toronto, Canada. It’s offered at Michigan Medicine and is growing in popularity.
  • SMART uses large doses of radiation before aggressive surgery.
  • Studies report survival rates of more than three years for SMART. People with epithelioid mesothelioma have the best prognosis.
  • Extrapleural pneumonectomy is the surgery for SMART, but doctors are looking into whether pleurectomy with decortication is a better option. Specialists also may add immunotherapy to the approach.

What Is SMART?

SMART is a groundbreaking protocol for mesothelioma treatment. It administers radiation therapy before surgery. Oftentimes, doctors use radiation after surgery.

SMART began as a clinical trial at Princess Margaret Cancer Centre in Toronto, Canada led by Dr. Marc de Perrot. Other specialists incorporated their variations of SMART at different U.S. hospitals following favorable results.

Most doctors suggest mesothelioma surgery as the first-line treatment. Chemotherapy and radiation are often “adjuvant” treatments.

In SMART, radiation therapy is a “neoadjuvant” treatment since it occurs before surgery. Doctors believe radiation before surgery prevents “recurrence” of the disease. Recurrence means the cancer has returned.

Process for SMART

SMART begins with a one-week “course” of radiotherapy. This process involves five daily fractions of radiation throughout the week.

Surgery occurs a few days after radiation ends. According to the MedStar Washington Hospital Center’s website, EPP takes around three hours to complete, possibly longer.

The University of California San Francisco website states EPP requires two weeks of recovery in the hospital. Following discharge, patients need 6-8 more weeks of outpatient recovery.

After surgery and full recovery, patients may start adjuvant chemotherapy around three months after surgery. This step often depends on whether tumors reached the lymph nodes. Patients will receive 4-6 cycles of chemotherapy, and each cycle takes around three weeks.

How to Receive Mesothelioma SMART Treatment

People with pleural mesothelioma may wonder how to get SMART for their cancer. You should follow these three steps:

1

Learn more about SMART. You can read about survival rates for patients and what the approach entails.

2

Look for a cancer center (hospital) offering SMART for mesothelioma. While the concept began in Canada, it’s offered at a few cancer centers in the United States through clinical trials.

3

Contact a patient advocate. This step is important to connecting with a cancer center with SMART for mesothelioma. Patient advocates will coordinate an initial consultation for free.

SMART Surgery Types

SMART treats pleural mesothelioma, which accounts for around 80% of all mesothelioma cases. This cancer forms near the lungs, in a thin lining called the pleura.

SMART uses extrapleural pneumonectomy (EPP) after radiation. Doctors remove the nearby lung (ipsilateral lung), along with the:

  • Pleura
  • Part or all of the diaphragm
  • Lining around the heart

Doctors remove the lung within days after radiation ends. Dr. John Cho, of Princess Margaret, said they “don’t want to run the risk of leaving in a lung that’s inflamed and damaged due to radiation.”

Some doctors believe in pleurectomy with decortication (P/D) as an option. This surgery is less taxing for patients since it leaves both lungs intact.

SMART Radiation Therapy Types

SMART uses a radiation therapy called “intensity-modulated radiation therapy.” This is shortened to the abbreviation IMRT.

IMRT sends highly focused radiation beams at the target. It’s an advancement from photon radiation (external beam radiation) as it decreases the damage to healthy tissue. IMRT still can affect the lung tissue and can cause pneumonitis (lung tissue inflammation and scarring).

Another option is proton beam radiation, which further reduces damage to healthy tissue. Dr. Cho said using proton radiation might not work. The method takes too much time due to the beam’s narrow radius.

“It’d be too challenging since the patient is breathing the entire time and the lung is moving,” he said.

Dr. Cho said an option is to use both IMRT and proton radiation. The former covers most of the lung and proton radiation is targeted just for just the part of the lungs with a noticeable chunk of tumors.

Survival Rates for SMART

SMART has impressive mesothelioma survival rates, possibly some of the best.

Doctors at Princess Margaret found that 72% of select patients survived for three years. The median life expectancy for epithelioid mesothelioma cases was 51 months.

For all patients, the survival for SMART was 24.4 months. The general survival time for mesothelioma is around one year.

In 2021, doctors reported median survival of 65 months for 19 patients with epithelioid mesothelioma. All 19 also had an early stage diagnosis that hadn’t reached lymph nodes.

Side Effects of SMART

Princess Margaret researched the side effects of SMART for mesothelioma. Doctors found a recurrence rate of 63%.

Nearly half of patients experienced mild or severe complications within 30 days after EPP. One patient died from grade 5 pneumonia.

Other side effects include pneumonitis (lung tissue inflammation), lung scarring (fibrosis), breathing issues, fatigue and damage to skin. These occur due to radiation therapy.

EPP also can cause side effects, such as:

  • Internal bleeding
  • Respiratory failure
  • Pneumonia
  • Infection
  • Internal bleeding
  • Blood clots
  • Pulmonary edema
  • Cardiac issues

SMARTER for Pleural Mesothelioma

SMARTER is the evolution of SMART. It allows doctors to use P/D surgery instead of EPP, which requires a high level of physical fitness. More patients can enroll in SMARTER than SMART because more qualify based on health.

“We primarily use EPP, but we also do P/D as well,” said Dr. Elliot Wakeam, of Michigan Medicine. “We can do both. I would tailor it to the patient. If you’re a young and fit patient, EPP gives you better disease clearance.”

SMARTER is still in the early stages of clinical trials and research. There’s no survival data available yet for SMARTER.

“Most patients are getting pleurectomy with decortication because it’s easier for them to tolerate,” said Dr. John Cho, of Princess Margaret.

SMARTEST for Pleural Mesothelioma

SMARTEST follows SMARTER in the evolution of SMART. SMARTEST would implement immunotherapy into the protocol.

Dr. Cho and other doctors believe immunotherapy — specifically checkpoint inhibitors like Keytruda and Opdivo — enhances radiation therapy. Likewise, radiation makes immunotherapy work faster.

“There is a theory that radiation may partially kill tumors, thus releasing antigens which prime the immune response,” said Dr. Wakeam, who worked at Princess Margaret and brought SMART to Michigan Medicine. “Immunotherapy can help increase the response.”

Doctors and Cancer Centers Offering SMART

Princess Margaret Cancer Centre in Toronto is where SMART started. It’s the most famous hospital offering the approach.

Dr. Wakeam brought SMART for mesothelioma to Michigan Medicine. He joined the hospital in2019 and started the protocol soon after.

Dr. Cho stressed the importance of going to a respected cancer center. He said SMART requires experienced surgeons to perform either EPP or P/D.

“It seems that there’s a steep learning curve to get the technique down,” Dr. Cho said.

Other doctors and cancer centers offer SMART or a version of SMART for mesothelioma. Contact our patient advocates to learn more about options close to you.

Sources & Author

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About the Writer, Jenna Campagna, RN

Jenna Campagna is a registered nurse and patient advocate who is passionate about helping mesothelioma patients navigate their health care. She has over seven years of experience working with patients diagnosed with rare diseases including mesothelioma. Jenna is also a member of the Academy of Oncology Nurse & Patient Navigators and her goal is to connect patients to top mesothelioma specialists, treatment facilities, and clinical trials. Through her writing, she aims to simplify the complicated journey through mesothelioma by offering helpful tips and advice.