Photodynamic Therapy for Mesothelioma

Photodynamic Therapy for Mesothelioma | Pintas & Mullins Law Firm

Although mesothelioma is widely researched and treatments are consistently emerging, there is not a standardized, globally accepted therapy regimen. Consequently, those suffering from mesothelioma have an array of options that can be tailored to their unique needs. Mesothelioma is aggressive, and is usually associated with a poor prognosis. However, mesothelioma lawyers are hopeful that new studies being conducted around the world will provide patients with a better quality of life.

Unfortunately, conventional therapies for mesothelioma are often met with disappointing results. Because of this, alternative and experimental treatments, such as photodynamic therapy, are now at the forefront of modern medicine.

Photodynamic therapy combines a drug, called a photosensitizer or photosensitizing agent, and a specific wavelength of light. When these are combined, a form of oxygen is produced in the body that kills nearby cells. Doctors are able to treat specific areas of the body by tailoring each light wavelength and photosensitizer to target each tumor. Photosensitizing agents are injected into the bloodstream and absorbed by the body’s cells. Cancerous cells keep the agent absorbed significantly longer than normal cells, and about 24 to 72 hours after injection, doctors are able to expose the diseased cells with specific light wavelengths. The photosensitizer absorbs the light, which produces oxygen, which actively destroys nearby cancer cells.

The agent additionally seeks to damage blood vessels present in the tumor, preventing it from receiving nutrients and attempts to activate the immune system, which is compromised in most cancer patients. The light wavelengths are usually produced by a laser, LED light, or a thin, lighted tube. Other cancers typically treated through this format include esophageal cancer and non-small cell lung cancer.

The FDA has approved one photosensitizing agent, called porfimer sodium, or Photofrin. Photodynamic therapy is an outpatient procedure, usually conducted in combination with surgery, radiation, or chemotherapy.

A recent study by the Roswell Park Cancer Institute in New York treated 40 mesothelioma patients with surgical excision immediately followed by photodynamic therapy. The 40 patients were grouped by their respective cancer stage (I-IV) and treated according to their unique state of health. This study found that surgical interventions, such as pleurectomies, when combined with photodynamic therapies, offer good survival rates in patients with stage I or II mesothelioma. The lack of positive results in patients with stage III or IV cancer is most likely due to photodynamic therapy’s limitations in treating large tumors, since light is not able to pass very far into them, and its inability to treat cancer that has spread.

Porfimer sodium makes eyes and skin sensitive to light for about 6 weeks after the therapy, and patients are directed to avoid intense sunlight and indoor light. Though damage to normal cells is minimal, photodynamic therapy may cause swelling, burns, pain, and scarring in tissues directly adjacent to the cancer cells it’s targeting. Because mesothelioma normally affects the lung cavity, coughing, painful breathing, or shortness of breath may occur, though these symptoms are temporary.

Research studies are actively underway to evaluate the use of photodynamic therapy in numerous cancers, as well as to investigate new ways to deliver the activating light, improve equipment, and treat deep, large, and widespread tumors.

Photodynamic therapy is an aggressive local treatment modality, and is an ideal treatment for tissue surfaces and body cavities after surgical procedures. The advent of newer photosensitizers and improved laser technology has led to a renewed interest in evaluating photodynamic therapy, though additional studies are necessary to determine the role of PDT in the treatment of mesothelioma. 

Mesothelioma is so aggressive and difficult to treat because of its extraordinarily long latency period (between 20 and 50 years), and because exposure to asbestos (which mesothelioma is almost exclusively caused by) is often unnoticed. Asbestos is a naturally-occurring mineral and was used abundantly throughout the first half of the twentieth century in construction, shipyards, and automotive industries among others. Natural asbestos deposits are prevalent throughout the country, so exposure may not always be self-evident.

Mesothelioma attorneys at Pintas & Mullins Law Firm closely follow medical and scientific developments involving asbestos-related illnesses. If you were exposed to asbestos and consequently developed a disease, contact our firm immediately for a free legal consultation.