Mesothelioma is a particularly rare, aggressive, and deadly form of cancer that is typically found in individuals who have experienced an environmental exposure to asbestos. Asbestos is a naturally occurring, fibrous silicate mineral that can be found in several forms, including chrysotile and tremolite asbestos, though, all varieties of the material are currently listed as known carcinogens (cancer-causing agents) by the U.S. government.
Researchers have shown that microscopic, airborne asbestos fibers, once inhaled, become permanently embedded in the lining of the lungs where they can be the single contributing cause of malignant diseases such as mesothelioma, asbestosis (severe scarring of the lungs leading to serious respiratory problems), and lung cancer.
Now largely in many countries around the world, asbestos was once widely used in countless industries wherein worker exposure to asbestos is now blamed for tens of thousands of mesothelioma and lung cancer deaths on a global scale.
Until recently, most forms of treatment for mesothelioma have only succeeded in increasing patient comfort and quality of life; an eventual fatal outcome from the disease can almost always be expected. Early detection of mesothelioma can be difficult to achieve because the disease can take anywhere from 20-50 years or more to develop, and it is generally discovered well after the cancer has progressed to an advanced stage.
Oncologists have typically treated mesothelioma and other asbestos-caused lung diseases with strictly palliative surgical, chemotherapeutic, and radiological techniques. Recently, however, researchers, hospitals, pharmaceutical companies, and universities are involved with new scientific investigations into asbestos and related cancers in an effort to develop novel and potentially curative cancer treatments.
Today, there are several, potentially life-saving cancer therapies in development. Alfacell Corporation, a New Jersey pharmaceutical and research company, has reportedly achieved significant progress in its development of a promising new medicinal agent known as Oncanase, which offers beneficial parallels to RNA interference (RNAi), a cellular system that helps to determine which genes are active, as well as the specific level of cellular activity. Discovered from studies of the leopard frog, Oncanase has been shown to destroy cancer cells while leaving healthy cells unharmed.
Another experimental therapy researchers seek to apply to the treatment of asbestos-related cancers is being tested by scientists at the Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital in Nedlands, Western Australia. Researchers at the Gairdner Hospital are studying Aldara, a skin cream that has shown promising cancer fighting abilities in studies involving mice. A closer examination of the topical treatment has resulted in human clinical trials wherein researchers are injecting the skin cream directly into a cancer patient’s mesothelioma tumor-the Aldara cream is administered in concert with tumor injected anti-CD40, a stimulant drug that is also part of the promising new treatment.
Increased funding for mesothelioma research has accompanied a general heightening of public and health professional awareness of the disease, and as a result, new scientific investigations into all asbestos-related diseases, such as asbestosis and lung cancer, are resulting in new and comprehensive research initiatives in laboratories around the world.
As more is learned about asbestos and how the hazardous mineral contributes to malignant disease, new and better treatments will undoubtedly be developed. As with all types of cancer, exciting and promising new breakthroughs are announced almost daily, and it appears to be only a matter of time before mesothelioma and all asbestos-related cancers are finally brought under control.