Unfortunately, by the time chemotherapy is administered, mesothelioma is often so advanced that the drugs have only a limited effect. In fact, most studies of chemotherapy for mesothelioma suggest that it probably only extends mesothelioma survival by a few months.
But a new study suggests that it may eventually be possible to use drugs as a way to prevent mesothelioma in people who are at risk for developing it because of asbestos exposure.
Mesothelioma and Inflammation
As with many types of cancer, the physiological processes behind the development of malignant mesothelioma are complex and not fully understood. One thing that is understood about mesothelioma development is that it is caused, in part, by an inflammatory response to asbestos fibers.
The long thin shape of microscopic asbestos fibers causes them to stick in membranous tissue. The immune system responds to this kind of “extracellular insult” by recruiting inflammatory cells to deal with the injury or stress.
The Role of Inflammation in Tumor Development
But researchers at the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine and the Fox Chase Cancer Center in Philadelphia say this inflammatory response to asbestos may actually help give rise to mesothelioma tumors and cause them to grow faster.
To test their theory, they removed an important inflammatory signaling protein from a subset of mice exposed to asbestos so that these mice would not release the typical inflammation fighters.
Although they still developed mesothelioma, their tumors took much longer to develop and grow than those of their normal littermates.
For now, the idea of giving certain drugs to asbestos-exposed individuals as a way to prevent mesothelioma is just a theory. But if future studies can prove that the theory is right, it may eventually be possible to stop mesothelioma before it starts by targeting the inflammatory response with drugs.
“The findings provide rationale for chemoprevention strategies targeting IL-1β/IL-1R signaling in high risk, asbestos-exposed populations.,” states study author and cell biologist Yuwaraj Kadariya, MD, PhD, of the Cancer Biology Program at Fox Chase.
Because there is currently no way to prevent the development of mesothelioma, people who have been exposed to asbestos should visit the doctor regularly and be aware of mesothelioma symptoms such as coughing, fatigue, and chest pain.
Kadariya, Y, et al, “Inflammation-Related IL-1β/IL-1R Signaling Promotes the Development of Asbestos-Induced Malignant Mesothelioma”, March 2, 2016, Cancer Prevention and Research, Epub ahead of print