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Asbestos, Cancer and Treatment: Staying on Top of Your Health

By FDOH Bradford Staff

November 12, 2019

With the current events unfolding, it’s no wonder that many individuals are worried about potential health risks. Because of the recall of Claire’s makeup just a few months ago, parents are concerned about their children’s exposure to asbestos. More recently, the Johnson & Johnson baby powder recall also has millions uneasy over their exposure to hazardous materials because of how world-renowned the brand is. In Philadelphia, the discoveries of the lack of asbestos removal from schools has made national news various times in October of 2019, and put many on edge.


Unfortunately, it’s not solely contained to one location; asbestos has been a major problem in many other states and cities. Though the Florida Department of Environmental Protection has been acting to prevent asbestos exposure, mesothelioma diagnosis in Florida is higher than the national average, with 2,801 mesothelioma related deaths from 1999 to 2015.


In light of these current events, the public should be aware of some of the dangers of asbestos exposure, its association to mesothelioma cancer and treatment options for those diagnosed. Last year for Healthy Lung Month, we detailed the dangers of asbestos fibers and mesothelioma; this year, we’d like to provide you with some research, treatment options and suggestions for addressing asbestos related problems.


Researching Mesothelioma and Treatments


There are many studies, surveys and tests taking place to improve treatment of mesothelioma and other illnesses affecting the lungs. It’s important to stay up to date with breakthroughs and tests, which will help in treatment of yourself and loved ones in case of exposure. Below is some more information about current research taking place.


Pleural and Peritoneal Mesothelioma: There are two main types of this cancer: pleural, when the cancer grows in the lining of the lungs, and peritoneal, when tumors form in the lining of the abdominal cavity or stomach. Though pleural is the most common form, many patients have developed both at the same time, or “co-occurring” cases. Studies have shown that there is an increasing amount of these co-occurring cases in the past decade. A study conducted in May 2019, found that 52% of 50 patients were diagnosed with a second form of mesothelioma one year after original diagnosis. Researchers suggest that diagnosis at an earlier stage to combat co-occurring cancers and increase prognosis.


Immuno-Gene Therapy Tests: Gene therapy is an emerging treatment option for mesothelioma patients. This trial tests the introduction of an adenovirus followed by systemic chemotherapy of pleural mesothelioma patients. Scientists are hopeful because of the promising results. In a different study, foreign DNA was introduced through an adenovirus, which, after injected, is broken down and integrated into a new DNA sequence. This new sequence tells healthy cells to release more proteins that fight the cancer cells and kills them. Currently, patient survival has been prolonged and disease control rate is at 87.5%, an increase to what it was previously.


Current Treatment Options


Three main treatments exist for patients diagnosed with mesothelioma: surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy. Though these are the three most used options, there are others available, such as the new NovoTTF-100L treatment. Though no cure exists, these forms of treatment have been proven to significantly increase prognosis, improve overall wellbeing and prolong life.


Surgery: For mainly those in the early diagnosis stage, surgery has been used to remove all or most of the tumor. Some radical surgical procedures that have also been successful are pleurectomy/decortication (P/D) and extrapleural pneumonectomy (EPP).


Chemotherapy: Chemotherapy drugs work to kill fast growing cancer cells. Normally, patients use a combination of surgery and chemotherapy for best treatment results.


Radiation Therapy: By using targeted radiation, cancer cells can be killed after surgery or if the cancer is causing significant pain to the patient. The two types of radiation used for mesothelioma include external beam radiation therapy (EBRT) and intensity modulated radiation therapy (IMRT).


NovoTTF-100L: This is the first treatment to be approved by the FDA in 15 years. It has very promising results, with a median extended survival rate of 18.2 months. It uses Tumor Treating Fields, which is a form of cancer therapy involving electrical fields tuned to specific frequencies that disrupt cell division, inhibiting the cancer from spreading.


Speaking with Your Doctor


Communication with your doctor is crucial because of the poor prognosis associated with the cancer. Even before diagnosis, be wary of symptoms associated with mesothelioma, and bring them to your doctor for examination. Some of the symptoms include abdominal pain, chest pain, coughing, difficulty breathing, difficulty swallowing, fatigue, fever, fluid buildup, hoarseness, muscle weakness, unexplained weight loss.


Keep in mind that there was also a study published on the six factors associated with improved mesothelioma survival, including:

  • Diagnosis before age 45
  • Gender (females had a better survival rate)
  • Diagnosis of epithelioid mesothelioma
  • Diagnosis of peritoneal mesothelioma
  • Diagnosis of stage 1 mesothelioma
  • Treatment plan including both surgery and chemotherapy


Though there are many contributing factors to the cancer, mesothelioma is completely preventable. The first step to prevention is awareness and education. If you have already been diagnosed, you have options for treatment and for continuing a full and happy life. If you’re worried or aware of exposure to asbestos in the past, speak with your doctor so they can help. There is always support for those combating these diseases, especially because November is Lung Cancer Awareness month.