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Targeted Therapies for Malignant Mesothelioma

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, HVAC professionals, and vinyl flooring manufacturers and installers. There are various treatment options available for people living with mesothelioma cancer, one of which is targeted therapy.

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 spread in check. 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. Because mesothelioma is controlled by several genetic factors, 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. By telling certain hormones to produce more or less of themselves, these targeted agents can help to halt the growth and spread of tumors.

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. By inducing an autoimmune response that singles out cancer cells, the targeted therapies that manipulate the immune system show great promise in keeping tumor growth and spread under control.

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. If you want to know if using a targeted therapy approach is right for you, talk to your oncologist about your available treatment options.

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. Using targeted therapies, many patients experience far fewer side effects and far more quality of life during and after treatment.

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