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Mesothelioma and the hope of data

Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance

26th September 2017

On Mesothelioma Awareness Day (26 September), we've collaborated with the Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance in the US to raise awareness of this rare cancer and how improvements can be brought about in new research, including the use of data. 

Worldwide, those with rare diseases have known the difficulty of not only finding a proper and timely diagnosis, but finding treatment options that work for them. The current state of cancer research and findings are thankfully providing the data and promise for more tailored care and advanced options for those affected by rare diseases, including cancers. Low diagnosis rates, alongside the unique needs of rare diseases, means that patient-focused findings are extremely important and new methods of research are paving the way for breakthroughs that are badly needed for those affected by rare cancers.

For patients faced with the difficulties of being treated for a rare cancer, it also illuminates the promise for advanced treatments from research and data being conducted. For example, with only around 3,000 cases diagnosed annually in the UK, mesothelioma cancer falls under this category. Also known as malignant mesothelioma, it is an aggressive form that develops in the lining of organs and is caused by exposure to asbestos. Asbestos is a fibre that’s invisible to the naked eye that was used in a wide range of materials over the past century, from construction to consumer goods. When these materials are damaged or broken the fibres can be inhaled or ingested. This exposure can over time potentially lead to irritation and tumours, resulting in mesothelioma. The most common form is called pleural mesothelioma, which affects the lungs. With the long latency period between exposure to developing mesothelioma being anywhere from 10-50 years, patients are often not correctly diagnosed until the later stages, when their typically general symptoms result in the need for a full biopsy.

While progress has been made in treating mesothelioma, the standard hasn’t been drastically updated in the recent past. A multimodal approach of surgery, chemotherapy and radiation has been the most effective and remains the standard of treatment for mesothelioma. However, for patients like those facing rare cancers like mesothelioma, breakthroughs from current cancer research and the data that has been coming from studies and clinical trials holds promise for the future.

Since early detection is often crucial for successful treatment, new diagnostic testing that is less invasive, more accurate and faster can reduce the need for multiple scans and a full biopsy. Research regarding breath tests and blood markers has shown promise at detecting pleural mesothelioma with specific proteins. With further study these findings hold potential for creating diagnostic testing for patients to not only prove effective at recognising signs of disease, but being able to detect and diagnose in the future.

At the forefront of cancer research, immunotherapy is leading to breakthroughs in treatment and discovering the nature of cancer itself. While the majority of studies are focused on more common cancers for access to more patients, those with rare cancers are finding ways to benefit from the data being generated. Findings and studies focused on areas of the body similarly affected can be one way for those with rare diseases to join in studies, while also providing information and furthering research specifically for their disease. For example, patients with pleural mesothelioma have been known to benefit from clinical trials and research focused on lung cancer studies. The introduction of immunotherapy is also being utilized in new ways, as opposed to simply being a final effort. These new treatments are changing the ways surgical and drug therapies are being worked into patient’s course of treatment.

With all the promise of new treatments, drugs and testing that are on the horizon, the actual makeup of cancer is also taking shape and increasing knowledge of the disease. This type of data and mapping of cancers is leading to connections between diseases, with the goal of ultimately unlocking how cancer functions to successfully find a cure. Genetic mapping and proteins have recently been one way of making up ground on this fight. The PDL-1 protein and BAP1 gene have both demonstrated how cancers and tumours can be linked and therefore attacked in similar ways. Melanoma patients share the BAP1 gene with mesothelioma patients and the PDL-1 protein has provided multiple inclusions into immunotherapy studies beyond type of cancer, but its foundational makeup.

For more about mesothelioma, statistics and how to support the mesothelioma community in the UK visit UK is a national specialist resource centre, specifically for the asbestos-related cancer, mesothelioma. The charity is dedicated to providing specialist mesothelioma information, support and education, and to improving care and treatment for all UK mesothelioma patients and their carers.

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