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Malignant mesothelioma, although relatively rare, is a very fast-growing and swift-spreading form of cancer, thus rendering it difficult to treat once it has reached later stages. Due to its lengthy period of dormancy, mesothelioma is sadly often not diagnosed until it has already metastasized.
Mesothelioma is strongly associated with exposure to fibrous carcinogens, namely asbestos, and is commonly diagnosed in people whose careers led them to be exposed to asbestos fibers on a daily basis—such as construction workers, vinyl flooring manufacturers and installers and HVAC professionals. Targeted therapy is one of several various treatment options available for people living with mesothelioma cancer.
What is targeted mesothelioma therapy?
Targeted mesothelioma therapy is a mode of treatment for malignant mesothelioma cancer that focuses specifically on destroying cancerous cells—and on sparing the healthy cells that surround them. Unlike older, traditional forms of cancer therapy such as chemotherapy and radiation treatment, targeted therapies work to reduce damage to healthy tissue while doling out as much damage as possible to malignant tissue.
How does targeted therapy work?
There are a variety of targeted therapies, each of which works in a different way—but the premise behind them all is the same: destroy cancer cells and spare healthy cells in order to reduce tumor size and keep cancer from spreading. Rather than attacking a wide swath of tissues, healthy or cancerous, as radiation therapy or traditional chemotherapy do, targeted therapy is just that—it targets the “bad” cells, and the aim of using this treatment is to “shoot down” the bad cells without having healthy tissue become a casualty in the war on cancer.
What types of targeted therapies are there?
There are several varieties of targeted cancer therapy available, each of them using a different mechanism to fulfill the same purpose: targeting cancer cells for annihilation while protecting the healthy cells that surround them. Let’s discuss a few of them in greater detail:
Those that affect expression of genes
Some targeted therapies are aimed at controlling the expression of genes that give rise to cancer (or that suppress tumors). These targeted agents are designed to flip a genetic switch, telling the genes that control cancer growth or tumor inhibition to turn on or off. Several genetic factors control mesothelioma so multiple agents may have to be used in order for this form of targeted therapy to be effective.
Those that affect hormone regulation
Similar to targeted agents that control gene expression, targeted agents that control hormone regulation fulfill the purpose of controlling hormones that are involved in cancer growth and proliferation. These targeted agents can help to halt the growth and spread of tumors by telling certain hormones to produce more or less of themselves.
Those that affect the immune system’s response to cancer
Some forms of targeted therapy work by causing the immune system to work against the cancerous cells in the body. The targeted therapies that manipulate the immune system show great promise in keeping tumor growth and spread under control by inducing an autoimmune response that singles out cancer cells.
Those that enact cancer cell death
Some targeted agents cause apoptosis to take place in cancer cells. Apoptosis is a pre-programmed cellular death that a cell has encoded into itself. Essentially, it is a form of “cellular suicide,” programmed to take place under a given set of circumstances. Researchers have found that some drugs work to induce this pre-programmed cell death in mesothelioma tumors.
Who are the best candidates for targeted therapies?
People whose mesothelioma has been deemed unresectable or inoperable are often good candidates for targeted therapy. By using a targeted therapy approach, the tumor—although not removable—may be drastically reduced in size, and cancer cells can be prevented from spreading throughout the body to organs distant from the site of the original mesothelioma tumor. Talk to your oncologist about your available treatment options if you want to know if using a targeted therapy approach is right for you.
What are the benefits to targeted therapies?
Apart from the greater amount of discretion for the type of tissue that is attacked by the therapy, there are other benefits to using a targeted therapy. For example, radiation and traditional forms of chemotherapy typically have extremely unpleasant side effects. Many patients, using targeted therapies, experience far fewer side effects and have far more quality of life during and after treatment.
Page Edited by Patient Advocate Dave Foster
Dave has been a mesothelioma Patient Advocate for over 10 years. He consistently attends all major national and international mesothelioma meetings. In doing so, he is able to stay on top of the latest treatments, clinical trials, and research results. He also personally meets with mesothelioma patients and their families and connects them with the best medical specialists and legal representatives available.