Mesothelioma behaves in a unique way, making it hard for doctors to treat the disease. This blog post will discuss the treatment difficulties, and elaborate on the emerging research and clinical trials that focus on improving mesothelioma treatment survival rates.

Mesothelioma Is a Rare, Complex Disease

Mesothelioma is a type of cancer caused by exposure to asbestos—a fibrous material found in a wide range of building supplies. It generally forms in the lining of organs found in the chest and abdominal cavities.

The disease is rare, affecting around 3,000 Americans each year. Survival rates range depending on the different disease locations: pleural (lung), peritoneal (abdomen) and pericardial (heart) mesothelioma. Peritoneal has the best prognosis and pericardial has the least favorable. Cell types within these three locations also impact survival rates and prognosis.

The rarity of the disease, along with its unique cell behavior, diagnostic difficulties and limitations within current treatment methods, make mesothelioma very hard to manage and treat.

Below are further explanations on the different factors that make mesothelioma so difficult to treat and how doctors are improving mesothelioma treatment.

1. Rare Diagnosis

As mentioned, mesothelioma is a very rare form of cancer. It challenging for doctors to diagnose the disease from other forms of cancer. General practitioners may not come in contact with the disease on a monthly or even yearly basis.

It is also difficult for healthcare professionals to differentiate between the 2 possible cell types present within mesothelioma tumors. Each cell type responds differently to treatment, so obtaining an accurate diagnosisis required to administer effective treatment.

2. Tumor Location and Cell Behaviour

Mesothelioma tumors grow in a way that makes it very challenging for doctors to completely remove them through surgery. The disease is also generally diagnosed at a later stage, once the mesothelioma cells have spread beyond where they first appeared. Mesothelioma cells replicate fast, leading to developing a tumor.

Mesothelioma grows along the surface of organs opposed to within an organ itself, like other forms of cancer. These surface tumors can spread quickly along the lining of surrounding organs.

Surface tumors are very hard to remove, and small amounts of cancerous cells generally get left behind leading to recurrence of the disease.

3. Limitations With Current Mesothelioma Treatments

Surgery is the best way to improve life expectancy for patients who have mesothelioma. But, because of how it develops, it’s very difficult for surgeons to remove all mesothelioma cells. Most mesothelioma treatments try to control the spread of disease instead of killing the mesothelioma cells. This means that many patients who achieve remission end up relapsing.

It’s common for mesothelioma cells to build up resistance to chemotherapy treatment. This means that doctors commonly use second-line drug combinations to treat mesothelioma. However, there is no set standard for these treatments.

Less invasive therapies, such as immunotherapy, use the body’s immune system to kill mesothelioma cells instead of targeting and destroying cancer cells. These types of interventions may slow mesothelioma metastasis, which can increase survival time. But, they do not always remove mesothelioma from the body.

Researchers Are Improving Mesothelioma Treatment

Doctors are investigating treatments that stop mesothelioma tumors from growing, versus simply preventing their spread.

Researchers are improving mesothelioma treatment by creating drugs that:

  • Prevent/inhibit mesothelioma tumors from redirecting blood supply (angiogenesis)—a key element to why they grow and thrive.
  • Prevent/inhibit signal pathways (cancer cell communication) and growth factors that are responsible for how fast mesothelioma cells multiply. Epidermal Growth Factor Receptor (EGFR) and Vascular Endothelial Growth Factor (VEGF) are two receptors/proteins researchers focus on controlling.
  • Target mesothelioma cells by scanning for specific receptors or proteins on their cellular membranes (the cell’s protective layer). Once identified, these targeted therapies will destroy mesothelioma cells.

Mesothelioma researchers are continually discovering new facts about the disease that will help the medical community develop more targeted and effective treatment methods. Do not lose hope, as each day brings us closer to finding a cure for mesothelioma.

If you have any questions about your diagnosis or need more support, please contact our Patient Advocates today at (800) 584-4151.

View Author and Sources

  1. The Oncologist, “Current Issues in Malignant Pleural Mesothelioma Evaluation and Management.” Retrieved from: Accessed on August 19, 2018.
  2. American Cancer Society, “Treating Malignant Mesothelioma.” Retrieved from: Accessed on August 19, 2018.

Last modified: September 26, 2018