Mesothelioma is a rare form of cancer in which malignant (cancerous) cells are found in the mesothelium, a protective sac that covers most of the body’s internal organs. Each year, more than 2,000 new cases of mesothelioma are diagnosed within the United States, many of which end up being terminal.
While there is no one-size-fits-all cure for mesothelioma, researchers and doctors have been working on different treatments to help make this rare form of cancer more manageable. Currently, treatment for mesothelioma generally depends on the location, stage, general health and age of the mesothelioma patient. From that point, patients may receive one or more of a combination of treatments that involve surgery, radiation and/or chemotherapy.
Does Chemotherapy Treatment Work?
Chemotherapy is considered a palliative treatment modality which means that it can help reduce the symptoms of mesothelioma and perhaps the size of the tumors, but it is not curative. Within the last decade, chemotherapy containing cisplatin-antifolate combinations has been shown to improve responses and prolong survival in mesothelioma patients. Based on the successes shown in clinical trials, a trio of research scientists in The Netherlands launched their own population-based study to “assess the impact of this development on clinical practice and survival at a population-based level.”
The study focused on 4,731 Dutch patients diagnosed with mesothelioma between 1995 and 2006. For the periods 1995-1998 and 2005-2006, the use of chemotherapy to treat mesothelioma jumped from 8% to 36%. At the same time, median survival for chemotherapy-treated patients increased from 10.1 months in earlier years to 13.1 months in more recent years. The researchers summarized their findings by stating that increased chemotherapy use at the national level did improve survival rates of mesothelioma patients, but they also cautioned that there may still be alternative explanations as to why this is the case.
Alimta and Cisplatin
Cisplatin is a platinum-based chemotherapy drug marketed as Platinol and used to treat a number of different cancers, including mesothelioma, some carcinomas such as small cell lung cancer and ovarian cancer, lymphomas and germ cell tumors. Inside cancer cells, cisplatin and other platinum-based drugs trigger cell death, killing the cancerous cells. In the United States, the platinum-based drug, cisplatin, is usually combined with another drug, Alimta, for treating mesothelioma. Alimta is an antifolate drug, which works by blocking the activity of folic acid inside cells interfering with cellular metabolism.
The FDA approved the Alimta plus cisplatin combination after a clinical trial demonstrated that the two drugs were more effective than one drug. In the July 2003 edition of the Journal of Clinical Oncology the published results reported a median survival time of 12.1 months for mesothelioma patients who received Alimta and cisplatin versus 9.3 months for the mesothelioma patients who just received cisplatin. The researchers also found that the addition of folic acid and vitamin B12 helped to reduce the toxicity of the drugs without adversely affecting survival time.
It is the hope that as research continues there will also continue to be better alternatives (and hopefully a cure) for those who suffer from mesothelioma.
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