Unfortunately, mesothelioma is quite the sinister disease. Diagnosis, treatment and screening for this type of cancer all prove to be challenging for doctors, even in cases of known asbestos exposure. Many people with mesothelioma present are diagnosed in the advanced stages, making aggressive treatment or surgery quite risky.
Scientists continually look for new ways to combat mesothelioma with the goal of improved prognosis, and potentially, a cure. Dozens of clinical trials are currently underway. We still have a lot to learn and uncover about treating and managing mesothelioma.
All of this research is working toward the goal of finding a cure. Is this a real possibility or is it too far-off? Would it be better to think of mesothelioma as a chronic condition that requires ongoing care, as is the case for diabetes or congestive heart failure? Let’s explore both sides.
Mesothelioma Cure, How Likely Is it?
Research in the field is currently investigating many different types of therapies in the journey towards a cure for mesothelioma, which include:
There is still room for future improvements to therapy as mesothelioma has a high recurrence rate, and there is still much controversy surrounding which surgical techniques are best. However, with the number of clinical trials currently underway, a cure for mesothelioma may be right around the corner.
One trial is presently investigating whether nivolumab, a drug that boosts the killer T-cells in the immune system, can target mesothelioma. The prospect of this is hopeful, as this drug has already been proven to be successful in targeting advanced melanoma and kidney cancer.
Another exciting clinical trial is assessing the use of specially designed viruses to treat mesothelioma. The virus would be placed directly in the pleural space with the goal to kill the cancer cells directly or enhance the immune system to attack the cancer cells. Experts think it’s only a matter of time until viro and immuno therapies become mainstay treatments.
Numerous physicians, surgeons and mesothelioma specialists are without a doubt that a cure will be found for mesothelioma in the near future. Consider these words from the late Dr. David Sugarbaker, Director of the Lung Institute and mesothelioma expert at Baylor College of Medicine:
This is not the death sentence it was 20 years ago. Long-term survival is possible. We now have the road map, and others have traveled the path, I remain optimistic that we can, in the next decade, put together the right combination of patient and treatment to affect a cure, which is our holy grail.
Time will tell if a mesothelioma cure is within reach in our lifetime. There is no doubt that science gets closer with each passing day.
The Long-Term Management Approach
On the other hand, if a cure is out of reach, then long-term management might be the answer. This approach is more so focused on managing symptoms associated with mesothelioma and controlling the disease as much as possible.
In this approach, multiple modalities of treatment are often used (chemotherapy, immunotherapy, gene therapy, radiation etc.) in an effort to slow the progression and/or recurrence of mesothelioma. The primary goal here is to preserve a patient’s quality of life without all of the adverse effects associated with treatment. Sometimes, highly aggressive treatment proves to do more harm than good.
My philosophy has always been: ‘Do no harm.’ Taking out a lung does harm and there is absolutely no benefit to the patient. Doing the bigger operation makes no sense from an oncology standpoint, because a surgeon cannot rid a mesothelioma patient of every last cancer cell and cure them.
In these cases, close surveillance by your mesothelioma doctor is warranted. Consultation with a palliative care specialist is also helpful. Palliative care is the management of the debilitating symptoms associated with cancer and treatment such as pain, nausea, loss of appetite and weakness.
Of course, a cure for mesothelioma is the ultimate goal of therapy but what if that is not possible right now? We know that scientists are working very hard to achieve this with new clinical trials and research.
Every patient is unique in their situation regarding their goals of treatment. You and your doctor will work together to decide which approach is best for you.