Physicians who specialize in treating mesothelioma predict that in the next five to 10 years, researchers will identify more accurate ways to detect the disease and tailor treatment to individual patients. Mesothelioma is an incurable cancer of the lining of the lung or abdomen closely associated with exposure to asbestos. Asbestos was widely used in building materials, fireproofing and insulation through much of the 20th century.
In an article in the November issue of Clinical Lung Cancer, Drs. Linda Garland of the Arizona Cancer Center, Raja Flores of the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York and Anne Tsao of the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center predict that the global burden of mesothelioma will increase in the decade ahead, particularly outside the United States. In the U.S., about 2,500 to 3,000 die each year of mesothelioma. With cases of mesothelioma expected to spread, doctors need more effective treatments for the aggressive cancer and more personalized treatments for patients, they say.
Under current medical practice, doctors select mesothelioma patients to undergo radical surgery to remove cancerous tumors based on factors including the stage of the cancer, specific structure of the cancer cells, lung function and the patient’s overall health. But these factors are not very good predictors of long-term survival. Less than a third of the mesothelioma patients selected undergo radical surgery live four to five years, according to the article.
The researchers say there is an opportunity for development of tests for earlier detection of mesothelioma through telltale molecules in the bloodstream, known as biomarkers. Biomarkers are a relatively new but promising area of genetic research. One researcher has compared biomarkers to fingerprints of the disease. For example, the prevalence of a biomarker protein identified as microRNA-29c in mesothelioma tissue has been linked to longer patient survival and improved prognosis after surgery, according to an important recent study. These patients may be better candidates for tumor removal surgery, if the biomarker are validated by further research.
The article authors say that progress has been made in the last decade in the development of chemotherapy drugs for mesothelioma. Longer survival for mesothelioma patients may be possible with chemotherapy regimens tailored to the individual patients in the future. According to the studies, this may be possible if biomarkers can be pinpointed to help doctors identify which patients are receptive to individual chemotherapy drugs such as pemetrexed-based therapy.
Doctors are still awaiting the development of a break-through drug or therapy that may allow the targeting of mesothelioma tumors, according to the article. In the next five to 10 years, they say there will be promising developments toward a brighter future for mesothelioma patients.