Drug Therapy for Mesothelioma
Therapeutic drugs have been used to treat thousands of illnesses throughout human history. The earliest forms were herbal treatments used to relieve minor pain and suffering. For centuries, Indians in South America chewed the bark of the cinchona plant to reduce swelling and fevers. Later on it was discovered that chemicals in the bark prevented malaria, which hasted the development of the drug quinine. Modern advances in chemistry and medicine have taken this ancient practice and applied to the science of treating cancer, called oncology.
Cancer, like many other illnesses, can be treated through a rigorous regimen of drugs. When fighting cancer, these drugs are designed to inhibit growth of cancerous tumors by halting their cell division. Unfortunately, other rapidly replicating cells such as in the hair and the lining of the stomach and intestines are effected which causes hair loss and nausea. Tragically, drug therapy for mesothelioma is not particularly effective for a few reasons. Mesothelioma takes decades to mature, and by the time victims feel any symptoms the cancerous tumors are built of many layers of dead cells that drugs have difficulty penetrating. Furthermore, drugs take time to fight cancer, and time is a limited resource for many victims of mesothelioma.
In the past, doctors have shied away from drug therapy for mesothelioma since many of the side effects caused by the drugs were far worse that the benefits caused by the therapy. This fact, combined with the rising number of mesothelioma cases across the country, inspired a number of drug companies to create innovative new drugs designed to combat this devastating and deadly disease.
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The Food and Drug Administration approved Alimta in February of 2004 as a new drug therapy for mesothelioma. It works by inhibiting the creation of thymidine and purine, two enzymes vital to cell growth. Mesothelioma cells tend not to multiply as fast when exposed to the drug, although there are some rather extreme side effects associated with Alimta treatment. These include nausea, diarrhea, fatigue, vomiting, mouth sores, and low blood counts, though supplements of vitamin B12 and folic acid can help reduce the severity of these effects.
Cisplatin is a platinum-based chemotherapy drug that prevents the reproduction of DNA and is used to treat a number of different cancers including mesothelioma. The FDA approved it in 1978 to treat a number of cancers, and has proved somewhat effective on mesothelioma. It was first discovered in 1845, but forgotten until the 1960s. Unfortunately, Cisplatin can cause a number of serious side effects such as hearing loss, kidney damage, nerve damage, and nausea, and so doctors are reevaluating it as a potential drug therapy for mesothelioma.
Onconase is a chemical taken from the eggs of the leopard frog that prevents protein synthesis which in turn prevents cell division and growth. It has shown promise as becoming one of the more effective drugs for treating cancer, as survival rates for one and two years are 34.4% and 21.6 respectively, as opposed to six to eight months without treatment. Research is underway to determine if Onconase is an effective drug therapy for mesothelioma.
Veglin is a chemotherapy drug that blocks the growth of tumors in people suffering from lymphoma, Kaposi’s sarcoma, and colon and lung cancers. Many oncologists believe that it could be effective in fighting mesothelioma, for Veglin inhibits vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF), a substance that is usually found in very high concentrations in mesothelioma patients. VEGF helps tumors grow new blood cells to gather nutrients from the blood, and Veglin can help block this process and starve tumors to death.
Tomudexis a drug therapy for mesothelioma that prevents the tumor cells from replicating the DNA they need to multiply and spread. Recent preliminary clinical studies reveal a somewhat beneficial reaction in mesothelioma patients when the drug was used on its own. It is also believed to work in concert with another drug called Onconase.
Vinorelbine is a chemotherapy drug isolated from the rosy periwinkle plant that was approved by the FDA in 1994 for the treatment of small cell lung and breast cancer. Recent studies revealed that Vinorelbine could be an effective drug therapy for mesothelioma with relatively few adverse side effects. Research continues into the future of combing Vinorelbine with other cancer fighting drugs.