Does Chemotherapy Help Mesothelioma Survive?

Mesothelioma is a rare cancer in which malignant (cancerous) cells are found in the mesothelium, a protective sac that covers most of the body’s internal organs. More than 2,000 new cases of mesothelioma are diagnosed each year in the United States, many of which become terminal.

While there is no one-size-fits-all cure for mesothelioma, researchers and doctors have been working on several treatments to make this rare cancer more manageable. Currently, the treatment of mesothelioma generally depends on the location, stage, general health, and age of the mesothelioma patient. From then on, patients can receive one or more of a combination of treatments that include surgery, radiation, and/or chemotherapy.

Does Chemotherapy Treatment Work?

Chemotherapy is considered a palliative treatment modality, meaning it can help reduce the symptoms of mesothelioma and perhaps the size of the tumors, but it is not curative. Over the past decade, chemotherapy with combinations of cisplatin and antifolate has been shown to improve response and prolong survival in mesothelioma patients. Based on the successes demonstrated 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. In the period 1995-1998 and 2005-2006, the use of chemotherapy for the treatment of mesothelioma increased from 8% to 36%. At the same time, the median survival of 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 use of chemotherapy nationally improved the survival rates of mesothelioma patients, but they also cautioned that there may still be alternative explanations for 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 and ovarian cancer, lymphomas, and germ cell tumors. In cancer cells, cisplatin and other platinum-based drugs cause cell death, killing the cancer cells. In the United States, the platinum-based drug, cisplatin, is usually combined with another drug, Alimta, to treat mesothelioma. Alimta is an antifolate medicine that works by blocking the activity of folic acid in cells that interfere with cellular metabolism.

The FDA approved the combination of Alimta plus cisplatin after a clinical trial showed 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 reduce the drugs’ toxicity without adversely affecting survival time.

It is hoped that as research progresses, better alternatives (and hopefully a cure) will also remain for those who suffer from mesothelioma.

Disclaimer: The information in this article is for educational and informational purposes only. The content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek advice from your physician or other qualified healthcare professional if you have any questions about a medical condition. Never ignore professional medical advice or delay the search because of something you read in this article.

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