As a mesothelioma patient or the family member of a mesothelioma patient, you constantly seek out new information to help understand this challenging illness and how best to cope with it, predict it and as much as possible treat it. For you, the slow careful wheels of scientific investigation cannot turn quickly enough as you eagerly await any new developments.
Yet it is important to make sure that the information you find meets the highest scientific standards. The new study we are going to discuss here may be considered preliminary because it has not yet been published in a professional medical journal. But it was presented at an important medical conference, often the first step to publication, which means it is scientifically sound.
In the new study based on 48 patients undergoing surgery for malignant pleural mesothelioma, scientists from the prestigious University of Pennsylvania found that a typically overlooked set of lymph nodes can actually help predict mesothelioma prognosis and thus guide treatment plans.
The findings were presented at the International Association for the Study of Lung Cancer’s 15th World Conference on Lung Cancer recently held in Sydney, Australia.
These lymph nodes are called the posterior intercostal lymph nodes. They are located between the ribs near the spine. Unlike other lymph nodes in the body, these lymph nodes have not been routinely tested for the presence of mesothelioma cells even though they are positioned relatively close to the lungs.
The researchers found that mesothelioma had spread to these nodes in 54% of the cases they studied. For the patients whose posterior intercostal lymph nodes tested positive for mesothelioma, median overall survival was significantly shorter than for patients with no cancer in these nodes. This held true even in patients whose other lymph nodes – the ones typically used for determining the stage of the cancer – were free of metastatic mesothelioma cells.
The conclusion of the study was that surgeons should routinely biopsy these lymph nodes as part of any surgery-based treatment for mesothelioma and that these lymph nodes should be included in any revision of how mesothelioma prognosis is predicted.
“Ultimately, it means that the presence or absence of cancer in these lymph nodes could help guide the treatment of pleural mesothelioma,” said Joseph S. Friedberg, MD,, the lead scientist on the study.