While much of 2020 was chaos and misery, the end of the year brought new hope in the form of two scientific studies. Each focused on a different form of mesothelioma treatment.
Mesothelioma research and treatment have taken many different turns in recent years, but surgery remains the most effective option, when it is viable. One study explored the recent shift toward a new surgical preference. The other study looked at the ongoing work in immunotherapy. Together, they showed how researchers keep making incremental progress.
When surgery is an option
One of the biggest problems with mesothelioma is that people often catch it too late for the most aggressive forms of surgery. The cancer is usually in the later stages and has spread throughout the body by the time most doctors diagnose it. As a result, doctors are rarely able to remove the cancer.
However, even when doctors may not be able to fully remove the cancer, they can sometimes use surgery to fight it. Palliative surgeries help extend victims’ survival and improve their quality of life. For many years, the standard was an extrapleural pneumonectomy. This meant removing a victim’s lung, along with some neighboring materials. Recently, surgeons have switched to a different procedure. They have preferred pleurectomy decortication, which spares the lung.
The study reviewed the procedure’s effectiveness and offered some good news. In addition to sparing the lung, the new technique:
- Offered low 30- and 90-day mortality rates of 3% and 4.6%
- Saw mostly low-grade complications
- Corresponded with nearly twice the overall survival, from 11.6 months to 23.2 months
- Worked well in conjunction with post-operative chemotherapy
Notably, the study involved only 355 patients, which is a relatively small sample size. This is one of the difficulties of working with a rare cancer. As a result, the researchers said their work suggested others should continue looking at how surgery could work with a multimodal approach to mesothelioma treatment.
Advances in immunotherapy
The second study explored the recent progress in immunotherapy. It recognized that immunotherapy focused on checkpoint inhibitors had long failed to show much promise, but recent developments have been more encouraging.
The study pointed out that mesothelioma tumors aren’t all the same. Traditionally, epithelioid tumors are harder to treat. Still, the results from an ongoing trial showed promise for both non-epithelioid and epithelioid tumors. When combined with chemotherapy, the immunotherapy patients:
- Showed an average improved survival rate of 2.2 months for epithelioid tumors
- The average improved survival rate was even better, at 9.3 months, for non-epithelioid tumors
The study didn’t address any side effects or quality-of-life concerns.
Moving step by step in the right direction
Certainly, neither of these studies suggest that researchers are anywhere near the discovery of a cure. Neither of these treatments promises to fully remove the hardships associated with a mesothelioma diagnosis. But they both show how researchers keep moving in the right direction, step by step by step.
If you or someone you love has been diagnosed with mesothelioma, you want to know all your available options. Because it’s a rare cancer, doctors don’t always know what’s available. Experts are few and far between, but they may be able to connect you with the people undertaking groundbreaking efforts.