A combination of lung-sparing surgery, chemotherapy, and using light to kill malignant cells helped patients with malignant pleural mesothelioma live years longer than those who received chemotherapy only, according to a study.
The research suggested that while a cure for mesothelioma is not within sight, patients may be able to live longer with it.
The study, “Extended Pleurectomy-Decortication–Based Treatment for Advanced Stage Epithelial Mesothelioma Yielding a Median Survival of Nearly Three Years,” was published in the journal Annals of Thoracic Surgery.
The 73 patients who took part in the research at the University of Maryland in Baltimore, who had advanced stages of the disease, survived for a median of three years after receiving the combination treatment. All received the surgery and light therapy, and 92 percent the chemotherapy.
The typical life expectancy of those diagnosed with mesothelioma is 12 to 21 months, according to the Mesothelioma Center’s asbestos.com website.
The 19 patients in the study whose cancer had not yet spread to the lymph nodes survived even longer — a median of 7.3 years.
“These are among the best results ever published for patients with an epithelial subtype of pleural mesothelioma, which accounts for about two-thirds of all cases,” Joseph S. Friedberg, MD, the study’s lead author, said in a news release. He is a professor of surgery and head of the Division of Thoracic Surgery at the University of Maryland School of Medicine.
The study also showed that even patients whose cancer returned after the combination treatment lived much longer than recurring-cancer patients treated only with chemotherapy. Typically, those with relapses who took chemotherapy live only a few months after their initial treatment.
Friedberg pioneered the complicated lung-sparing surgery at the University of Pennsylvania. It involves removing cancer from the chest lining while leaving the lungs and as much other tissue as possible. It takes six to 14 hours.
In traditional mesothelioma surgery, surgeons remove the entire lung, diaphragm, and sac around the heart. “Although, from a technical perspective, it is more challenging to save the lung than to sacrifice it, it does appear that this technique helps to not only extend life but to also preserve quality of life,” Friedberg said.
The team is now looking for ways to help patients survive for years after the cancer recurs.
“This is among the most virulent cancers known to man, and we have a long way to go, but it’s encouraging to have achieved results we can report in years, not months, even for these patients with such advanced disease,” Friedberg said.