Several forms of mesothelioma treatment are still in the experimental stages. These include the drug Alimta®, immunotherapy, gene therapy and photodynamic therapy. Patients should ask their doctors about the latest advancements in these treatments.
Alimta® is a new type of cancer chemotherapy developed by Eli Lilly. Alimta® is the first chemotherapy drug to significantly increase the length of survival for mesothelioma patients and to reduce the symptoms of the disease. The Alimta® clinical trial was one of the largest to study treatment for mesothelioma and results of the trial were presented to the American Society of Clinical Oncologists at an annual meeting.
Immunotherapy works by stimulating the body’s own natural immune defenses to halt the spread of cancer. Some research suggests that mesothelioma cells are affected by immune mechanisms, and thus, that mesothelioma may be successfully treated through immunotherapy. To date, however, most studies have looked at single–agent therapy alone. Since the mesothelioma tumor has several aspects that allow it to escape detection by the immune system, the single–agent therapies that address just one of these aspects have not been very successful.
In a few cases, immunotherapy has led to a substantial shrinkage of the tumor. Most of the patients, however, had very early stages of mesothelioma. It is, therefore, difficult to predict how the treatment might work for patients with more advanced disease. Doctors hope to combine immunotherapy with surgery, chemotherapy and/or radiation therapy to improve results for patients diagnosed at a later stage of the disease.
Scientists are currently studying many forms of gene therapy for use in treating mesothelioma. Gene therapy works by correcting defective genes that allow cancer to develop and spread. This treatment is still experimental in nature and cannot be performed unless the patient consents to participate in a clinical trial.
Photodynamic therapy has produced disappointing results thus far. With this therapy, a drug that makes cancer cells sensitive to a specific wavelength of light is administered prior to a surgery in which laser light is used to locate and destroy cancer cells without damaging the surrounding healthy tissue. The therapy can only be used on superficial parts of the body; it cannot safely be used deep in the chest or abdominal cavity. Still, it is hoped that photodynamic therapy will be useful for the treatment of mesothelioma after a tumor has been surgically removed.