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Elderly Mesothelioma Patients Need “Less Toxic” Treatment Options

1883452_Patient3 smallA new study of more than 9,000 people suggests that elderly mesothelioma patients would likely live longer if treatments could be found that are “less toxic” than current chemotherapy.

A European team of cancer researchers analyzed mesothelioma treatment trends by location and by age group and found that younger patients are more likely to have – and to benefit from – chemotherapy for mesothelioma. Although older mesothelioma patients often have chemotherapy, too, they are more likely to die from treatment-related complications.

The study focused on three countries with high mesothelioma rates – Belgium, the Netherlands, and England. It included a total of 900 mesothelioma patients from the Belgian Cancer Registry, 2309 from the Netherlands Cancer Registry, and 5808 from the UK National Lung Cancer Audit.

Mesothelioma, a virulent cancer linked to asbestos exposure, can take decades to develop, which explains why almost 60 percent of patients in the study were 70 years or older. Most (84%) were men. The researchers found that, while chemotherapy use in older mesothelioma patients was more common in Belgium than in the Netherlands or the UK, all three countries showed lower rates of chemotherapy treatment in patients between 70 and 79. This had a direct impact on their survival since median mesothelioma survival was 5.6 months longer for chemotherapy patients, irrespective of their age.

“Elderly patients currently account for more than half of all cases and less toxic treatment options will be required to improve their prospects,” writes study author Ronald A. Damhuis of the Netherlands Comprehensive Cancer Organization in Rotterdam.

In the US, approximately 2,500 patients are diagnosed with mesothelioma every year, despite strict of government regulation of asbestos use and handling. Chemotherapy is the preferred first line treatment for most patients, although it has been shown to be only marginally effective against this treatment-resistant cancer.


Damhuis, RA, “Treatment patterns and survival analysis in 9,014 patients with malignant pleural mesothelioma from Belgium, the Netherlands and England”, May 22, 2015, Lung Cancer, Epub ahead of print.

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