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Combination Therapy Improves Survival Rates for Mesothelioma Patients

Through my work as a mesothelioma lawyer, many of my clients and their loved ones have told me how frightening it is to receive a mesothelioma diagnosis when doctors tell you the expected survival rate is often less than one year.  I am continually on the look-out for new medical treatments and studies that show improvements in life expectancy for mesothelioma patients to share with my clients. I recently read about a new research study from the School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania that shows improved survival rates for patients with pleural mesothelioma using a new combination of photodynamic therapy, a light-based treatment, and a lung-sparing surgery.  The results of this study were recently published in the Annals of Thoracic Surgery, June 2011.

Study Offers New Hope for Mesothelioma Patients

The current study was conducted at the Raymond and Ruth Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. It involved a lung sparing surgery in combination with a light-based cancer treatment called photodynamic therapy or PDT.  There were two goals of the study: 1. To determine if using a light-based cancer treatment, PDT, in combination with a less invasive surgical procedure could be used instead of a more extensive surgery called an extrapleural pneumectomy that involves the removal of the entire lung; and 2. To see if the PDT treatment would show an increase in the survival rate of patients.

The light-based therapy used in this study penetrates only a short distance into the lung allowing the lung to be saved.  The intent behind this therapy is to eliminate the microscopic cancer and jump start the patient’s own immune system to help fight the cancer.  Twenty-eight patients suffering from pleural mesothelioma participated in this new study.  Of the 28 patients involved, 24 patients were in Stages III or IV pleural mesothelioma.  Most of the patients that took part in this study were not eligible for surgical therapy because of their advance stage of mesothelioma and age.

Fourteen patients in the group were treated by modified extrapleural pneumectomy (MEPP) and 14 were treated by radical pleurectomy (RP), which involves the removal of the pleura to allow the lungs to expand and fill the pleural cavity. All were treated with intraoperative PDT, the light-based treatment.  On average, the 14 patients who received the modified surgical treatment survived 8 months.  The remaining 14 patients who only had the pleura of the lung removed were still alive at their 2 year check up.

Dr. Joseph Friedberg, MD, co-director of the Pennsylvania Mesothelioma and Pleural Program and the thoracic surgeon who performed the operations remarked “…We were completely caught off guard when the analysis revealed a significantly longer survival rate for the patients who retained both lungs.” Dr. Friedberg, MD went on to say “This study has limitations as many mesothelioma studies do, but these results are very encouraging.”

About Pleural Mesothelioma

Pleural mesothelioma is the most common form of mesothelioma and makes up roughly 70% of mesothelioma cases.  Pleural mesothelioma originates in the membrane surrounding the lung and chest.  The malignant cells grow and eventually create a thick coating around the interior of the chest cavity.  The invasive nature of these cancerous cells makes it impossible to remove with surgery alone.