There is no cure for mesothelioma. However, there may be periods of time in which a mesothelioma patient appears to be disease free. This is what is known as a remission.
Remission can be Complete or Partial
There is a definite difference between complete and partial remission:
- In a complete remission, there are no symptoms that can be found that indicate that mesothelioma is still present in the body. However, this doesn’t means that there aren’t microscopic cancer cells that aren’t visible using existing technologies. It also doesn’t mean that the disease will not recur at some time in the future.
- In a partial remission, the majority of symptoms can no longer be seen, but there are still some signs that mesothelioma is present in the body. A patient in partial remission has a higher risk of the disease recurring than a patient in complete remission.
There have been Rare Instances of Spontaneous Regression
A spontaneous regression is the complete or partial disappearance of a malignant tumor, which has been left untreated, or has been treated, but the treatment was never expected to have any effect on the tumor. A spontaneous regression is the same as a spontaneous remission; but doctors use the term regression when they are talking about a tumor that has decreased in size or completely disappeared.
One such case was reported in the October 1, 2007 edition of the Medical Journal of Australia. A 61-year old woman who was diagnosed in 2002 with mesothelioma went into a spontaneous regression a few months later. She was disease-free within six months and remained that way for five years. However, the author of the article noted that the woman had only a very limited exposure to asbestos and it was not occupationally related.
Regression can be Brought About by Treatment
Patients can experience disease-free periods as a result of being treated with multi-modality therapy that includes surgery and some other form of treatment like chemotherapy and/or radiation.
In an article that appeared in the February 2011 edition of Expert Review of Respiratory Medicine, the author discusses how surgery when paired with intraoperative photodynamic therapy can increase a patient’s chances for remission.
Intraoperative photodynamic therapy is performed during the surgery. The patient is prepared for the therapy several days before the operation by being given an injection of a drug that makes cancer cells more light-sensitive. Once the surgeon has removed as much of the tumor as possible, a special light is directed at the area containing the tumor. The goal of intraoperative photodynamic therapy is to destroy any cancer cells that remained after the tumor was removed.
New Therapies are Being Examined that can Cause Remission
In an article published on September 21, 2010 in Molecular Cancer Therapeutics, researchers discussed their findings from studies using viral therapy to bring about remission from mesothelioma. They used a genetically altered version of the Newcastle Disease virus.
They started the testing by treating mesothelioma cells in the laboratory with their version of the virus. Based on those tests, they then treated animals that had tumors implanted in them. What they discovered was that 65 percent of these animals had a complete remission within 14 days after treatment with only a single dose of the virus. The animals survived for more than 50 days from the time they were implanted with a tumor.