People diagnosed with mesothelioma today face better prospects than they would have just a few years back. This is largely because of the ongoing research taking place around the world.
It sometimes seems as though there are breakthroughs and developments in the news every week. However, they don’t all lead to new treatments. In fact, the tumor-treating fields approved by the Food and Drug Administration in 2019 were, at that point, the first new treatment approved in 15 years. So, why don’t treatments seem to keep pace with the breakthroughs? And what can mesothelioma victims and their families expect?
The difficulties with rare cancer research
Before the FDA approves treatment for use, that treatment needs to advance through several stages:
- The initial research and proposal
- Pre-clinical testing on animals
- An application to begin human trials
- Human trials that start with smaller groups and move to larger groups over several phases
- Reviews of the data and any manufacturing facilities
- An application to distribute and market the treatment
- A review of any product labels
All of this takes time and money. Treatments often take years to develop and approve, and if the trials reveal problems, researchers may have to scrap their treatment or take it back to the start. Simultaneously, the research is limited by the number of researchers and the access to funding. Most cancer research focuses on other, more common cancers. In 2018, the most recent report on record, the National Cancer Institute tracked $150.8 billion spent on cancer research. Of this:
- $574.9 million went to breast cancer research
- $258.3 million went to leukemia research
- $256 million went to colorectal cancer research
- $239.3 million went to prostate cancer research
- $6 million went to mesothelioma research
While the research into other cancers may lead to breakthroughs for mesothelioma research, the difference in funding makes a difference in the pace of the research. So does the lower number of victims. No one wants to see more people receive mesothelioma diagnoses. But researchers need patients for their trials. The disease’s rarity can delay or lengthen these trials.
Research is about more than finding a cure
While everyone would love to find a cure for mesothelioma, it doesn’t appear likely anytime soon. Instead, scientists are looking for other ways to help victims. Researchers have looked in many different directions, including:
- Tumor formation and prevention
- Early detection and diagnosis
- Tumor suppression to prevent the tumor from growing and spreading
- Bolstered immune responses that help the victim’s body fight back
- Modified viruses to attack the tumor cells
The bad news in mesothelioma research may be that it doesn’t have the same funding as other cancer research. But the good news is that it still benefits in many ways from the research into other cancers. In fact, the 2019 National Cancer Institute budget included a $10.7 million grant to the Abramson Cancer Center. The grant acknowledged the team’s efforts to harness the power of chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T cell therapies used for leukemia and bone cancers. The therapies have had a profound impact on the treatment of those cancers. They have not yet proven effective for solid tumors, but the team hoped the grant money would give them the time to unlock new methods. And it’s notable the grant nearly doubled the total mesothelioma spending from the year before.
All these things add up
Even though researchers have not yet found a cure, their advances add up. They have improved the outcomes from where they were decades or even years ago. And the researchers aren’t just moving at a steady pace. They are continually improving. We see this from looking at the milestones in cancer research that the American Society of Clinical Oncology lists on its website. These breakthroughs date back to 1850, but nearly half the breakthroughs have taken place in the past two decades.
This gives us reason to hope those with mesothelioma will continue to enjoy better and better treatment. This is especially true for people who have been exposed to asbestos but have not yet been diagnosed. Continued advances may help them live longer and enjoy a better quality of life.