Pleural mesothelioma, is an aggressive form of lung cancer strongly linked to asbestos exposure, which has very limited treatment options and is associated with poor patient survival, with most having less than a year left to live once diagnosed.1
Eight leading UK cancer research centres are participating in a ground-breaking new study to evaluate a potential new treatment targeting cancer stem cells, and measure if the life expectancy of these patients could be prolonged. Cancer stem cells are often resistant to conventional chemotherapy, By targeting the cancer stem cells, it is hoped that the growth of the mesothelioma can be slowed or stopped, and a new treatment option for patients could be established. (Trials are taking place at Leicester Royal Infirmary, Addenbrooke’s Hospital, Cambridge, Velindre Hospital, Cardiff, Broomfield Hospital, Chelmsford, Kings College, London and St. Batholomew’s Hospital, London, Wythenshaw Hospital, Manchester and Southampton General Hospital.)
Despite the UK’s control on asbestos in 1985, the number of mesothelioma patients is set to continue to rise sharply as mesothelioma can take between 30-40 years from exposure to asbestos to develop. In the UK, the number of deaths caused by the disease each year has grown to 2,543 in 2010 and it is the most rapidly increasing cancer amongst women in the UK (3rd most for men).2, 4
It is estimated that more than 9 out of 10 men and more than 8 out of 10 women with mesothelioma have been in contact with asbestos.4, 5
Most at risk of developing the disease include builders, construction workers, railway workers, plumbers and gas fitters, dock workers, electricians, roofers, painters and decorators amongst other tradespeople and workers who have had exposure to asbestos.3 As the data on the increasing incidence in women show, the demographics are changing as asbestos is found in many places and secondary exposure is considered to be a great risk moving forward.
For patients who are diagnosed with mesothelioma, there are very limited treatment options beyond the one chemotherapy approved. By targeting cancer stems cells it is hoped that it will be possible to prolong patient survival and improve quality of life.
1. Cancer Research UK. Statistics and Outlook. Accessed 08 November 2013
2. GLOBAL PANORAMA ON MESOTHELIOMA 2009. Laurie Kazan-Allen. Presented at Mesothelioma Symposium Chamber of Deputies. São Paulo, Brazil, November 2009
4. Cancer Research UK. Mesothelioma Risks and Causes. Accessed 27 November 2013
5. The Asbestos Center: http://www.asbestos.com/mesothelioma/uk/ Accessed 27 November 2013