Patients and families struggling with malignant mesothelioma can take some encouragement from the case of a long-time mesothelioma survivor, published recently in a medical journal.
The patient, a 61-year-old Japanese man with a five year history of asbestos exposure, was referred to the hospital for chest pain. A computed tomography scan showed thickening on his right pleura (the lining around the lungs) and some small nodules. When doctors did a more thorough investigation using video-assisted thoracoscopy, they found a tumor growing on the muscles of the chest wall. Histopathological evaluation identified it as the sarcomatoid type of malignant pleural mesothelioma. Sarcomatoid is the most aggressive mesothelioma cell type.
Because there is no consistent cure for mesothelioma, most clinicians choose to take a multi-modal approach, combining therapies such a surgery, chemotherapy or radiotherapy. Newer treatments such as immunotherapy or gene therapy may also be used. But the patient in the recent case report refused to have any invasive treatments including surgery or radiotherapy. Instead, his doctors chose to treat him with the novel combination of hyperthermia and systemic chemotherapy with the drugs cisplatin and irinotecan.
Hyperthermia (also known as heat therapy or thermotherapy) is a type of cancer treatment in which body tissues are exposed to temperatures up to up to 113°F. Research has shown the treatment to be effective at killing cancer cells without seriously damaging normal tissues. According to the National Cancer Institute, “By killing cancer cells and damaging proteins and structures within cells, hyperthermia may shrink tumors.”
In the case of the Japanese mesothelioma patient, the man reportedly underwent three hyperthermia sessions and a single course of chemotherapy with no major complications. In fact, one month after treatment, a follow-up CT scan showed “no definitive abnormality in the thoracic space.” Most encouraging of all, the patient has continued to live mesothelioma-free for seven years.
Although further larger studies will be needed to confirm the treatment’s efficacy in mesothelioma, the Japanese doctors who treated the man concluded, “The combination of hyperthermia and chemotherapy may be a novel and safe therapeutic option for malignant pleural mesothelioma and can be considered for patients ineligible for radical treatment.”
Hyperthermia in Cancer Treatment, Fact Sheet, National Cancer Institute.