Earlier this month the FDA approved Keytruda, manufactured by Merck, to treat melanoma. Keytruda disrupts the cancer cells that tell the body's immune system not to attack the cancer cells as intruders. Keytruda, and other drugs in this class are already being tested on other types of cancers including small cell lung cancer and mesothelioma caused by exposure to dangerous asbestos fibers.
The U.S. Senate unanimously passed Senate resolution 66 designating the first week of April 2013 as "National Asbestos Awareness Week." Asbestos is known to cause lung cancer and mesothelioma by breathing in asbestos fibers that become lodged in the lung or lining of the lung. One of the goals of resolution 66 is to warn and educate people about the dangers of asbestos exposure. Despite it's dangerous and adverse public health interests, asbestos is still mined, imported and used around the world. According to Dr. Richard Lemen, Assistant Surgeon General and one of the speakers at the Global Asbestos Awareness Week Conference, "vast amounts of asbestos are still used in many developing countries where exposure is not limited to just workers." A safe level of exposure to asbestos has not been able to be determined and therefore most industrial countries have banned its use. However, according to Dr. Lemen "this has not been true for Canada or the United States where products can still contain asbestos."
Patients now have better treatment options to increase their survival rates through the use of advanced treatment options. Patients with pleural mesothelioma have two surgical options both of which are painful and difficult for the patients. The doctor may recommend an extrapleural pneumonectomy which is a radical procedure involving removal of a lung, the diseased lining of the chest cavity and heart and a portion of the diaphragm or a pleurectomy/decortication, which strips away the mesothelioma tumors in the membrane lining in the lung but spares the lung. If surgery is not an option, other treatments such as chemotherapy and radiation are available for mesothelioma patients to improve survival chances. In addition to these traditional approaches to treatment, physicians at the University of Pittsburg Medical Center in Pennsylvania and the Moffitt Cancer Center in Florida use hyperthermic intraperitoneal chemoperfusion (HIPEC) to battle peritoneal mesothelioma. HIPEC involves bathing the abdomen with high doses of chemotherapy drugs to reach the tumors in the abdomen. Medical News Today reports researchers at the Moffitt Cancer Center found patients who receive a chemo bath survived five times longer than patients who received the best alternative care. Every day more and more advancements are being made in mesothelioma research towards finding a cure and treatments, such as HIPEC, which are extending patients' lives.
Patients suffering from mesothelioma, lung cancer, and other solid tumors may be eligible to participate in clinical trials at the National Cancer Institute (NCI) in Bethesda Maryland involving the use of immunotherapy agents which target the tumor antigen mesothelin. Dr. Raffitt Hassan, M.D., is the head of the Solid Immunotherapy Section and is currently conducting clinical trials involving two different immunotherapy agents for the treatment of malignant mesothelioma. The first trial, referred to as a Phase 1B study, is to evaluate the safety and immune response to the IV infusion of CRS-207 combined with Pemetrexed and Cisplatin in patients with pleural mesothelioma. The second trial is a pilot study of Pentostatin plus Cyclophosphamide Immune Depletion to decrease immunogenicity of SS1P in patients with mesothelioma. Like the first trial the agent, Pentostatin is administered by IV infusion. Both trials are being conducted at NCI in Bethesda by Dr. Hassan. For further information contact NCI and Dr. Hassan at www.nih.gov/.
Last week researchers reported that another important biomarker has been identified for treating mesothelioma and lung cancer patients.Researchers have discovered that the fibroblast growth-inducible 14 (FN14) gene plays a role in tumor growth and metastasis. When the FN14 gene was suppressed the spread of the metastasis was slowed.