Chemotherapy is the most widely used mesothelioma treatment. Chemotherapy drugs have the potential to reduce the size of tumors and slow the spread of the cancer. But mesothelioma chemotherapy, like many cancer drug therapies, has limits to its effectiveness.
New research that combines the sound waves from ultrasound treatment with the delivery of cancer drug therapies promises to improve the delivery of chemotherapy. This could make chemotherapy drugs more toxic to cancer cells and less toxic to healthy tissue. The study could lead to new treatment options for mesothelioma patients.
Limitations of Cancer Drug Therapies
Chemotherapy is cancer treatment with drugs that seek out and kill cancer cells. Many of these cancer drug therapies are attracted to cells that divide quickly, since rapid replication is one of the hallmarks of cancer cells. These drugs keep the cancer cells from dividing and growing.
One of the problems with this approach is that it negatively affects other fast-growing cells in our bodies, such as your bone marrow (which produces the white blood cells crucial to your immune system), hair follicles, and the cells that line your digestive tract. Because these normal cells are often killed off along with cancer cells, many patients lose their hair during chemotherapy treatment. They may also experience digestive distress, including nausea and diarrhea. Some patients struggle to keep weight on during cancer drug therapies, because of loss of appetite. In addition, the reduction in immune function can leave patients vulnerable to infection or illness during mesothelioma chemotherapy.
When side effects are too severe, patients may have to stop chemotherapy. They lose access to cancer drug therapies that might otherwise be a valuable treatment.
In addition, chemotherapy doesn’t work on every cancerous tumor. Cancer drug therapies that work at first can lose their effectiveness over time. Cancers evolve rapidly, and tumors sometimes develop drug resistance over time.
New research that combines ultrasound with the administration of cancer drug therapies seeks to make chemotherapy more successful. Freed from some of its limitations, chemotherapy has the potential to become an even more powerful treatment for mesothelioma patients.
Research on Ultrasound Enhancement of Cancer Drug Therapies
Ultrasound refers to sound waves that have a higher pitch than the human ear can hear. Medical ultrasound bounces these waves off internal organs and other body structures to create an image. Ultrasounds see things that X-rays can’t, such as a real-time image of a baby in the womb. The vibrations from ultrasound can also be used to gently break up scar tissue or kidney stones.
Unlike some other imaging techniques, ultrasound doesn’t involve radiation and has no side effects. Researchers have studied the combination of focused ultrasound with chemotherapy, to see if one will enhance the other, for a number of years. Ultrasound can raise the temperature of the tumor, which makes the cancer cells more susceptible to cancer drug therapies and the surrounding cells less likely to become collateral damage.
A new study will look at the effectiveness of a technique called Acoustic Cluster Therapy (ACT). ACT uses ultrasound to deliver concentrated doses of chemotherapy to cancerous tumors. Norwegian biotech firm Phoenix Solutions AS will team up with the Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGen), based in Arizona, for initial testing. This preliminary study will verify that the hardware works properly and try out the techniques in the lab in advance of human trials on pancreatic cancer patients in Norway. Funding for the study comes from Innovation Norway.
Researchers hope to use the sound waves from a specially-designed ultrasound machine to focus the delivery of cancer drug therapies on the tumor area. Previous research has indicated that ultrasound combined with chemotherapy could reverse drug resistance in tumors and this study will gather more data about this effect.
If ultrasound is able to increase the efficiency of chemotherapy delivery and the power of the drugs to neutralize cancer cells, doctors may be able to get the same cancer-fighting effect with lower doses of cancer drug therapies. Lower doses plus more targeted delivery could relieve some side effects, thus enabling more patients to benefit from chemotherapy.
Researchers believe that ultrasound plus chemotherapy can provide more effective cancer drug therapies for patients with a range of cancers. If the results are positive, Phoenix Solutions, plans to expand the application of the new ultrasound technology beyond pancreatic cancer.
Mesothelioma Chemotherapy Treatments
Doctors have found that mesothelioma chemotherapy works best in combination with other cancer treatments. For mesothelioma patients, cancer drug therapies are most often combined with radiation or surgery (or both). A chemotherapy regimen that includes two drugs instead of one has also been shown to be more potent. In addition, new studies are examining the benefits of a combination of traditional chemotherapy drugs with mesothelioma immunotherapy treatments.
The cancer drug therapies that work best for most mesothelioma patients are pemetrexed (also sold under the brand name Alimta) and the platins or platinum-based drugs: cisplatin and carboplatin. A two-drug combination that includes a platin with another mesothelioma chemotherapy drug (pemetrexed or vinorelbine, doxorubicin, or another of the cancer drug therapies that work well for mesothelioma) has been found to be particularly effective for pleural mesothelioma patients.
Traditional chemotherapy is not as effective for peritoneal mesothelioma. HIPEC, a form of chemotherapy in which heated drugs are circulated directly in the abdomen, is a better cancer drug treatment for this mesothelioma type.
If your doctor prescribes mesothelioma chemotherapy, you will probably go to a medical facility and spend at least an hour while the drug is administered intravenously. During your chemotherapy treatment, your medical team may place a catheter tube into your chest or abdomen to provide easier access to administer the drugs.
Some cancer drug therapies can be given orally instead of intravenously. Your doctor will give you detailed instructions on how to prepare before your chemotherapy treatment. Be aware that the drugs may sap your energy so plan to take it easy for a few days after each treatment.
Because researchers and physicians have gotten more clarity about the precise doses of cancer drug therapies needed for optimal effect, more patients can now tolerate life-extending chemotherapy. If the Phoenix Solutions studies go well, mesothelioma patients may have another tool to fight this deadly form of cancer: cancer drug therapies combined with ultrasound.