Italian Researchers Relieve Mesothelioma Pain with Tumor-Shrinking Technique

Malignant mesothelioma is one of the cruelest forms of cancer. It appears seemingly from out of nowhere, decades after exposure to the asbestos that causes it, then moves quickly and aggressively to claim the lives of those diagnosed with it. Its solid tumors cause pain as they grow larger, and those tumors’ walls have proven extremely resistant to the effects of chemotherapy. Now researchers from the Italian Ministry of Health have tested a novel form of treatment called electrochemotherapy that allows cancer medications to more effectively cross the tumors’ cell barriers. The protocol allows the medication to enter previously resistant tumors, reducing their size and decreasing pain. 

Electrochemotherapy Shown to Shrink Mesothelioma Tumors

The search for effective treatments for malignant mesothelioma and other solid tumors is a global effort, as demonstrated by this research into electrochemotherapy: It was conducted by the Interventional and Medical Oncology Unit, and Pharmacy Unit of the  IRCCS Istituto Tumori “G. Paolo II” in Bari, Italy and was published in the journal European Review for Medical and Pharmacological Sciences. This team’s efforts focused on pain relief in 20 patients whose solid tumors had previously been treated unsuccessfully and who were not candidates for surgery. All suffered from rare cancers, including pleural mesothelioma, adrenal metastasis, and uterine leiomyosarcoma. 

The researchers treated each patient intravenously with the chemotherapy drug bleomycin and then electrical pulses were administered directly into their tumors using multiple single needles. The researchers hoped that the electrical charge would break down the cell membrane’s barriers temporarily, allowing the chemotherapy drug to enter membranes that had previously proven impermeable to its effects. 

Multiple Benefits for Mesothelioma Patients Receiving Electrochemotherapy

In addition to shrinking the size of the mesothelioma tumors, researchers found that the electrochemotherapy technique allowed them to apply lower doses of the systemic chemotherapy medication, thus reducing the severity of the drug’s adverse side effects while at the same time providing significant pain relief. 

Though electrochemotherapy has been successfully used in skin tumors, this test is one of the first to employ what is known as deep percutaneous ECT on mesothelioma tumors. The patients in the study reported a reduction in median pain from 7.5 on a scale of one to ten to a three out of ten one month after the procedure, and a median of 5.5 months without pain.  Almost half of the patients also achieved stable disease after the procedure. In his conclusion, lead author Girolamo Ranieri wrote, “Our study indicates that deep percutaneous ECT can produce a significant pain reduction and a high LDCR [local disease control rate] in different tumor lesions…. giving a new chance to physicians for reducing oncological pain in patients not eligible to other therapeutic routes.”

If you or someone you love has been diagnosed with malignant mesothelioma, pain relief is just one of your goals. For information on the resources available to help you, contact the Patient Advocates at today at 1-800-692-8608.

Terri Heimann Oppenheimer

Terri Oppenheimer

Terri Heimann Oppenheimer is the head writer of our news blog. She graduated from the College of William and Mary with a degree in English. Terri believes that knowledge is power and she is committed to sharing news about the impact of mesothelioma, the latest research and medical breakthroughs, and victims’ stories.

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