Every year, thousands of Americans learn they have mesothelioma. Most of them realize it only after the disease has progressed too far for surgery to be a viable option. This means their treatment largely consists of trying to slow the cancer’s progress to live longer and enjoy a better quality of life.
For years, this most often meant chemotherapy or radiation, frequently paired with other drugs or treatments. Then last year the FDA approved the first new mesothelioma treatment in over 15 years. But what is it like to live with this new treatment? The story of one Pittsburgh man offers some insight.
Optune Lua is the device used to generate Tumor Treating Fields
The treatment that the FDA approved is known as Tumor Treating Fields (TTF), and it slows tumor growth by bombarding the cancer cells with frequent charges of electricity. These charges enter the body through electrode pads that people affix to their chests and backs. The pads receive their power from battery packs that people can set near them or wear in backpacks when they want to move around. The whole assembly was first called NovoTTF-100L but has since been renamed “Optune Lua.”
Since the FDA’s approval of Optune Lua, the company responsible reports that more than 100 doctors at 50 treatment centers have earned certification. This means more patients may receive TTL prescriptions, and the early results suggested those who receive it lived an average of six months longer than those who stick with standard treatment.
It also offers doctors another way to care for patients who don’t respond well to other treatments. In the case of the Pittsburgh man, his doctors had already tried radiation, chemotherapy and surgery. They turned to TTF after none of those led to a significant improvement. TTF provided the man another chance to enjoy his life. According to the report, TTF gave him more time to:
He was even able to cut down trees while wearing the Optune pack. But his experience with the pack wasn’t all positive. Some parts of his treatment were even painful:
- When he sweats, the electrodes slipped out of position
- Loose electrodes get hot and burn, leading to blisters
- The man needed to check-in for frequent CT scans and to have his electrodes realigned
On top of the physical discomfort and time requirements, the man’s treatment meant financial challenges as well. Neither Medicare nor his coverage through the Veterans Administration covered the treatment. He was able to cover most of his expenses through a patient assistance program, but his story is a reminder that mesothelioma treatment often challenges victims’ financial security.
When are Tumor Treating Fields appropriate?
As more doctors become certified with TTF and Optune Luna, more people are bound to wonder if TTF is a good fit for them or their loved ones. The treatment’s use of electrodes and electricity precludes certain patients. These include anyone sensitive to hydrogels and people with pacemakers or other implanted electronic devices.
People interested in the treatment can consult with their doctors for more information about the potential risks and benefits.