Surgeons at the University of Pennsylvania have been defying the odds of mesothelioma patient survival for several years using a combination of modified pneumonectomy surgical procedures and photodynamic therapy. Together, the two treatments seem to be helping mesothelioma patients live longer, healthier lives than those who undergo traditional pneumonectomy procedures with or without the use of photodynamic therapy.
Dr. Joseph Friedberg has been able to successfully extend the median life of his patients post-surgery to 31.8 months, as opposed to a median survival rate of less than one year for patients who undergo traditional pneumonectomy surgeries. According to Friedberg, many of his patients are not only surviving, but also living active, fulfilled lives. His patients have returned to normal activities just weeks after undergoing surgery – with one woman in her eighties returning to the golf course within months of the operation. He even has four patients who lived more than five years post-operatively.
Dr. Friedberg’s findings were published in The Annals of Thoracic Surgery in February 2012 after several years of study. A traditional pneumonectomy involves pulling all visible cancer tissues from the body, as well as removing the affected lung. With a modified pneumonectomy, visible cancer tissues are also removed, but the lung is preserved. Dr. Friedberg then injects a photosensitizing drug into the body that makes cancer cells sensitive to light. He then uses red light to destroy remaining traces of mesothelioma cells that are not visible to the eye.
According to Friedberg, the results are positive, but not enough for him to consider it a victory for mesothelioma patients. All 38 of the patients he treated in the study had a recurrence of the disease at a median post-surgical time span of between 9 and 10 months, although he reports the resurgence of the cancer was “less imminently lethal.” He vows to continue to battle the disease at the University of Pennsylvania, hoping to eventually “turn this [mesothelioma] into a chronic disease, like diabetes.”
Most mesothelioma patients live no more than a year after initial diagnosis using traditional treatment measures. Mesothelioma is a highly aggressive cancer that causes tumors and fluid retention in the mesothelium lining of the chest cavity, lungs and abdomen. It is caused by exposure (inhalation and ingestion) of asbestos fibers – sometimes as much as 40 years or more prior to diagnosis. Traditional cancer treatments, like chemotherapy and radiation, do not have an effect on mesothlelioma.