Fighting malignant mesothelioma is an uphill battle that thousands of men and women fight each year. As these patients endure pain, weight loss, fatigue, and overall frustration following their diagnosis, they often face even scarier prospects concerning treatment and survivability. Mesothelioma is an asbestos-caused cancer that currently has limited treatment options, and low life expectancy.

But, we hope that is about to change.

Scientists at Boston College and Brigham and Women’s Hospital have reported that they have developed a new approach for delivering chemotherapy to mesothelioma patients. It’s an approach, they say, that has the potential to improve overall survival and revolutionize the future of mesothelioma treatment.

The Prevalence of Chemo-Resistant Mesothelioma

Malignant mesothelioma is an aggressive cancer that is inherently resistant to chemotherapy in 50% of patients. Historically, injected chemotherapy drugs have shown very little success in infiltrating mesothelioma tumors and eliminating cancer cells. The mesothelioma tumors, in a sense, have a way of building up immunity against chemotherapy drugs — making them virtually resistant to a dosage after a period of time. In fact, evidence suggests that today’s mesothelioma chemotherapy is unlikely to increase survival any more than 4 months.

Each year, around 3,200 men and women in the United States are newly diagnosed with malignant mesothelioma. Their diagnoses come on the heels of long careers in workplaces that exposed them to asbestos fibers — a leading cause of mesothelioma and other lung cancers. While bans and regulations on asbestos use have been introduced in some parts of the world, the reality is the mineral is still in use and remains a real danger to the general public. This, together with the long latency period of mesothelioma development, means that the incidence is not likely to decrease any time soon.

Doctors Get Tough on Mesothelioma Treatment with New 2-Step Approach

Seeing that chemotherapy for mesothelioma is marginally effective, the teams of researchers in Boston dug deep to explore a new way to seek and destroy mesothelioma tumors. Together, they have figured out a way around the roadblock — in the form of a new drug delivery system — that could make mesothelioma chemotherapy a lot more effective.

The doctors in Boston call it a 2-step approach.

The first step involves the use of nanoparticles, designed specially to zero in on a mesothelioma tumor. Doctors administer the nanoparticles and then, in step 2, they administer the chemotherapy drugs. Doctors say the nanoparticles “act like magnets” for the chemotherapy drugs — ushering more of them straight into the mesothelioma tumors where they can attack the cancerous cells.

So far, research shows this 2-step method is successful on mesothelioma cells in live mice. If the same success holds in human trials, doctors say the new mesothelioma chemotherapy drug delivery method has the potential to dramatically improve treatment in patients with different forms of mesothelioma, such as pleural or peritoneal. It could also improve chemotherapy for patients with ovarian and pancreatic cancers as well — both of which are also sometimes resistant to chemotherapy.

The Future of Mesothelioma Treatment

Mesothelioma is rare. There is no cure. Still, there is hope.

Many factors determine a patient’s chances of survival, including how early a tumor is detected and how far it has spread. Certainly each patient’s situation is unique, but the good news is that researchers are making great strides in mesothelioma treatment and detection. Innovative types of treatment, such as this new 2-step chemotherapy drug delivery method, have the potential to help mesothelioma patients survive against the odds.

As more research is conducted and findings are revealed, doctors may one day put together all of the pieces to mesothelioma’s deadly puzzle — extending life expectancy even more and, perhaps, one day finding a cure.