A Daunting Story of Mesothelioma Surgery – Brutal Ways for Some to Achieve Longer Life
Mesothelioma tumors are brutal, and so are the treatments. A new story at Philly.com details the 11 hour surgeries and light therapy in use at Penn Presbyterian Medical Center to obtain another precious year or two for persons stricken by the cancer. Set out below a portion of the opening section on results – see the entire article for specifics on the grueling surgery, followed by radiation guided by a chemical released into cells. Then, when the tumor returns, chemotherapy buys some additional time.
"Typically, patients die within a year of diagnosis. Yet more than two years after treatment at Penn, 27 out of 38 patients – 71 percent – were still alive, including four who had marked five years. These were advanced-stage cases, ostensibly hopeless, and they were defying the odds.
Friedberg, who was about to submit a study on those results for publication, knew there would be skepticism. The number of patients was small. And the treatment was almost as formidable as the disease. He spent up to 14 hours stripping out the cancer while preserving the patient’s lung; then residual malignant cells were zapped with laser light therapy.
He was disappointed, but not surprised, when the Annals of Thoracic Surgery demurred at publishing the study. "The reviewers said the follow-up time was too short and we were overestimating" the projected survival time, he recalled.
The only way to address that concern was to let more time elapse.
Last month, with a fuller picture, the journal published the results, which are impressive.
This story is about those results, and how the 25 members of Penn’s pleural and mesothelioma program are making remarkable progress against a dreadful disease.
It’s also about the heartbreaking inadequacy of that progress.
"I don’t particularly consider it a victory," said Friedberg, co-director of the program. " ‘Good’ for me would be 10 years. Every time these patients’ cancer recurs, it kills me."
Kudos to the medical team. But as the story shows, the treatments are brutal. The need is for genomic therapies that can stop or greatly slow the disease process.