Mesothelioma Medications and Anti-cancer Drugs
While chemotherapy medications against mesothelioma have the highest efficacy, there are several types of anti-cancer drugs that can be effective when paired with treatments or other medicines. Upon a mesothelioma diagnosis, a doctor can build a treatment plan that contains medication and treatment suggestions that the patient must follow to achieve the best prognosis. The program has several parts, mixing in chemotherapy, radiation, or other medications for an optimal outcome. Medications are generally used to fight mesothelioma with:
- Photodynamic treatment
- Targeted treatment
- Clinical trial medications
The determination on which medication, treatment, or a combination thereof to be used on mesothelioma patients hinges on several factors. The top three elements being: how far the disease has come, the patient’s medical history, and the patient’s current medical standing. Specialists perform tests to determine the majority of this information. Tests may include:
- CT scans of the chest and abdomen
- Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
- Positron emission tomography (PET)
These tests enable your physician to determine your stage in cancer and what type of treatment plan to develop. Not every patient will need to take all of these tests, as each situation varies.
Chemotherapy involves a treatment paired with anti-cancer drugs for maximum effect. There are several different types of chemo medications that can help treat mesothelioma. Some of those include:
- Pemetrexed (Alimta)
- Gemcitabine (Gemzar)
Specialists administer chemotherapy to mesothelioma patients in a multitude of ways, depending on how far along the cancer is, where it’s located, and other health factors. Extensive testing is still needed to find the best combination of medications and chemo for maximum efficacy. Currently, the best results are when chemotherapy treatment is paired with surgery. Other versions of chemotherapy are:
In this version of chemotherapy, a specialist injects chemotherapeutic medication into the blood through a vein. Then, it goes into the bloodstream and throughout the body to destroy cancer cells.
Intrapleural or Intraperitoneal Chemotherapy
Chemotherapy drugs can be put directly into the chest, intrapleurally, or intraperitoneally, through the abdomen. A catheter is utilized for this treatment when it’s placed through a small incision located in the chest or abdominal wall.
How Chemotherapy Helps
Chemotherapy can be used with other medications or treatments on a patient. If the tumors are small enough, then chemotherapy may be the only treatment utilized. Chemo can also be used after other therapies to attack the hidden cancer cells that were missed before. Additionally, chemotherapy can be used to prepare you for different treatment methods, such as shrinking a tumor before surgery, also referred to as neoadjuvant therapy. Finally, chemo can be used to help relieve the signs and symptoms of cancer, also known as palliative chemotherapy.
Side-Effects of Chemotherapy
Chemo medications are designed to attack cells that are dividing rapidly, making them effective against cancer cells. Unfortunately, cancer cells aren’t the only cells that do this. Bone marrow, the lining of the mouth and intestines, and hair follicles all contain cells that divide at a rapid pace, potentially affecting them with the following side-effects:
- Loss of Hair
- Loss of appetite
- Vomiting and Nausea
- Increased chance of infections, bruising or bleeding
- Sores in the mouth
There are other medications given to relieve the side-effects of chemotherapy. Talk to your physician about the options they would suggest, based on your specific case. However, the side-effects usually wear off once the treatment cycle has completed.
Photodynamic therapy (PDT) utilizes a drug called a photosensitizer or photosensitizing agent, and light to destroy targeted cells. PDT works when the photosensitizers are exposed to specific wavelengths of light that cause the formation of oxygen, consequently killing cancer cells.
How Photodynamic Treatment Helps
The use of photodynamic therapy medications has been known to improve the prognosis of mesothelioma patients. Since the wavelength determines how far the light travels into the body, doctors can use wavelengths and photosensitizers to project the light into different areas of the body for treatment. A medication used explicitly in treating mesothelioma is called porfimer sodium (Photofrin).
Side-Effects of Photodynamic Treatment
Porfimer sodium makes the eyes and skin hypersensitive to light for about six weeks once treatment has stopped. Patients who have undergone photodynamic therapy are advised to stay away from direct sunlight and bright indoor lights for this period.
Immunotherapy treatment uses the patient’s immune system to fight cancer. A couple of ways that this works is by stimulating the immune system to work more efficiently at attacking the cancerous cells, and by providing the immune system with useful additives, such as human-made immune system proteins.
Immunotherapy is still being researched and put to the test during clinical trials. A few medications being studied and tested for mesothelioma are:
- Atezolizumab (Tecentriq)
- Nivolumab (Opdivo)
- Pembrolizumab (Keytruda)
- Ipilimumab (Yervoy)
Doctors administer immunotherapy in a few different capacities. These include immune checkpoint inhibitors, cancer vaccines, and general immunotherapies.
Immune Checkpoint Inhibitors
Medication that allows the immune system to locate and destroy cancer cells.
Vaccines start an immune response against some diseases and can be used in the prevention or treatment of cancer as well.
This therapy will give the immune system a boost, strengthening it for the attack of cancer cells.
How Immunotherapy Helps
Unlike chemotherapy, which attacks both healthy and cancer cells, immunotherapy has a more targeted approach, offering fewer side-effects as well. When doctors implement immunotherapies, they strengthen the immune system’s defenses and enable white blood cells to locate and kill cancer cells.
Side-Effects of Immunotherapy
The side-effects listed for immunotherapy can include:
- Shortness of breath
- Nausea or vomiting
- Weight loss
- Rash or blisters
Unlike the way chemotherapy uses medications to treat cancer by attacking all cells; targeted therapy attacks cancer’s specific genes, proteins, or the tissue environment that aids in cancer growth and survival. The different types of targeted therapy are:
Angiogenesis is the creation of new blood vessels and a normal function of healing and growth in the body. Unfortunately, if a person has cancer, angiogenesis also helps spread and multiply the cancer cells. When new blood vessels form, they carry blood containing nutrients and oxygen to the tumors, enabling them to flourish.
Anti-angiogenesis drugs stop the growth of new blood vessels, blocking angiogenesis, consequently “starving” the tumors and stunting their ability to grow and spread to other parts of the body. Angiogenesis inhibitors, also known as small-molecule drugs, include:
- Bevacizumab (Avastin)
- Ramucirumab (Cyramza)
Monoclonal antibodies are made to block a specific target on the outside of cancer cells or to send toxic substances directly to the harmful cells. They’re also a form of immunotherapy when made as a substitute for immune system proteins to destroy cancer. These antibodies are helpful because they can be designated to attack specific areas of a cancer cell. Monoclonal antibodies are also used in conjunction with chemo and radiation therapies for cancer treatment.
Epidermal Growth Factor Receptor Inhibitors (EGFR)
Researchers find that when the epidermal growth factor receptors are blocked, mesothelioma tumor growth may slow or stop. Medications used as an inhibitor to EGFRs:
- Afatinib (Gilotrif)
- Gefitinib (Iressa)
How Targeted Therapy Helps
Since targeted therapies mainly attack the specific genes, proteins, or tissues that help cancer grow and spread, the side-effects can be less severe, with less damage to healthy cells.
Side-Effects of Targeted Therapy
Targeted therapy inhibits normal cell functions to attack cancer. Side-effects can include:
- High blood pressure
- Nausea or Diarrhea
- Low white blood cell counts and an increased risk of infections
- Headaches and pains
- Sores of the mouth
- Lost appetite
Clinical trials are another critical pillar of mesothelioma medications. Clinical trials involve people and research studies where doctors discover innovative ways to improve treatments and quality of life for patients with the disease. Some mesothelioma medications that are currently being tested out in patients are:
How Clinical Trials Help
Clinical trials help researchers experiment with new ways to treat, find, diagnose, prevent, and manage symptoms and side-effects of cancer and subsequent treatments. There are several clinical trials available for patients with mesothelioma to join. The National Cancer Institute provides a long list of trials and their locations.
Side-Effects of Clinical Trials
Side-effects of clinical trials are subjective to the type of testing, treatment, medications, and combination used.
While there are no radiation-specific medications except for medications administered to relieve radiation side-effects, anti-cancer drugs are paired with radiation treatment as a form of neoadjuvant therapy. Such as when chemotherapeutic medications are used in conjunction with radiation to shrink tumors before it’s administered.
Radiation treatment is also used after surgery to kill remaining cancer cells. This form of therapy utilizes high-energy beams from X-rays and protons to target a specific area or areas on the body. In advanced stages of cancer, radiation may be used to minimize signs and symptoms.
Mesothelioma Medications at a Glance
Medications used in the treatment of cancer and mesothelioma vary and are continually being researched and tested against the disease. Researchers are regularly making discoveries that have the potential to completely change the scene for future anti-cancer drugs, including mesothelioma medications and therapies.
Learn more about mesothelioma treatment options in our free mesothelioma guide today.