Malignant mesothelioma is an uncommon form of cancer typically associated with prolonged asbestos exposure. A rare yet serious disease, malignant mesothelioma attacks the mesothelium (membrane lining the heart sac and the lung and abdominal cavities), typically causing death within one to two years of diagnosis. Malignant mesothelioma types include:

  • Pleural Mesothelioma: The most common type of malignant mesothelioma, pleural mesothelioma attacks the thoracic cavity (lungs).
  • Peritoneal Mesothelioma: The second most common type of malignant mesothelioma, peritoneal mesothelioma attacks the abdominal cavity (stomach).
  • Pericardial Mesothelioma: The least common type of malignant mesothelioma, pericardial mesothelioma attacks the heart sac.

A plethora of treatment options are available for the 2,000 to 3,000 cases of malignant mesothelioma diagnosed yearly throughout the United States.

Traditional Treatment Options

There are three traditional ways to treat malignant mesothelioma:

  • Surgery
  • Chemotherapy
  • Radiation therapy (radiotherapy)

Doctors will often use a combination of two or more treatments (chemotherapy or radiotherapy is commonly used to stunt the growth of a malignant tumor prior to a surgical procedure).

Surgery: Surgical treatment of malignant mesothelioma is the physical removal of a cancerous tumor. The most proactive approach to treating any form of cancer, surgery is split into three categories:

  • Diagnostic surgery: A precursor to treatment rather than a method of treatment, diagnostic surgery helps confirm and stage malignant mesothelioma. In a procedure called a biopsy, tissue is removed from an area in question and examined by a pathologist.
  • Palliative surgery: As opposed to aggressively treating malignant mesothelioma, palliative surgery is the process of solely treating the disease's symptoms. For example, fluid build-up (pleural effusion) is a common symptom of malignant mesothelioma. Relief of pleural effusion requires draining of the fluid (thoracentesis). Because pleural effusion often recurs, the only way to eliminate the problem is through surgical closure of the pleural space.
  • Curative surgery: The goal of curative surgery is to remove all instances of malignant mesothelioma. More often than not, microscopic mesothelioma residue will remain following curative surgery, so it is typically followed by some other treatment (adjuvant therapy) such as chemotherapy or radiotherapy.

Chemotherapy: Treatment of mesothelioma using chemical substances is commonly referred to as chemotherapy. Cancer cells divide at a faster rate than normal cells, fostering a rapid spread of the disease. Although chemotherapy is not a curative procedure, it works to slow the spread of cancer cells throughout the body. Chemotherapy is used for various purposes in treating malignant mesothelioma:

  • Slowing the growth and spread of cancer cells throughout the body.
  • Shrinking tumors prior to surgical treatment (neoadjuvant chemotherapy).
  • Killing microscopic mesothelioma residue following surgery (adjuvant chemotherapy).
  • Treating the symptoms, using chemical substances (palliative chemotherapy).

Cisplatin has been used in the treatment of cancers since the 1970s when studies demonstrated its effectiveness in combating various sarcomas implanted in rats. A platinum-based chemotherapy drug, cisplatin is currently used for the treatment of sarcomas, carcinomas, lymphomas and germ cell tumors. Cisplatin was the first of a group of platinum-based chemotherapy drugs that now includes carboplatin and oxaliplatin. Although a traditional chemotherapy drug, cisplatin is often used in conjunction with various new treatment modalities or chemotherapy drugs. Both cisplatin and carboplatin are being tested in conjunction with pemetrexed (Alimta) for the treatment of malignant mesothelioma.

Radiation Therapy: Commonly called radiotherapy, radiation therapy uses high-energy rays such as x-rays to kill malignant mesothelioma cells. Somewhat similar to chemotherapy, radiotherapy is not typically viewed as a curative procedure; rather, it is used in combination with surgical procedures and for the purpose of treating the symptoms. Usually, radiotherapy is applied solely to a localized area of concern, as opposed to the entire body.

A 4th Treatment spawned by Dr. Gill and this Foundation

With the financial support of the Mesothelioma Research Foundation of America, Dr. Parkash Gill, M.D. has developed a non-chemotherapy, non-radiation modified molecule that treats cancer by attacking the blood vessels that feed the tumor thereby diminshing the cancerous tumor and eventually killing the tumor. Dr. Gill's molecule is known as Veglin, it has finished Phase II Clinical Trials and is now being scheduled for Phase III Clinical Trials.


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