Medical treatments for asbestos-related cancer

Medical treatments for asbestos-related cancer

The first Action Mesothelioma Day for Kent & Medway took place at the Chatham dockyard church on 7 July 2017. It saw three key medical speakers provide an insight into:


  • research into mesothelioma treatment;
  • current treatment options; and
  • current research trials that could make a difference to the life expectancy of mesothelioma sufferers.


Research into immunotherapy treatment for mesothelioma


Professor Anne Bowcock of Imperial College London highlighted current research into treatment for the asbestos-related cancer mesothelioma.


As a much understudied and underfunded cancer, currently without any reliable treatments, she explained the importance of the National Centre for Mesothelioma, which started in 2016. It uses targeted research to work towards better treatment for mesothelioma.


The research has shown that immunotherapy may be an effective treatment option for mesothelioma victims. The anti-body drug, pembrolizumab, is currently being trialled. It targets specific tumors or proteins with cancer cells.


Immunotherapy treatment has shown that it has fewer side effects than other treatments such as chemotherapy. It could keep some patients healthier for longer and prevent or slow down the development of secondary malignant growths.


Palliative care for mesothelioma


Dr Helen McGee from the Hospice in the Weald provided valuable insight into the tireless work they do in palliative care and how they manage the symptoms of the patient’s illness as well as giving great emotional support to patients and their families.


Their current control for mesothelioma and lung cancer symptoms includes a range of drugs for breathlessness and pain management. The Hospice also uses a wide variety of very helpful non-drug measures. These include:


  • purse-lipped breathing exercises to slow down breathing;
  • hand fans on the face (which can be as effective as oxygen);
  • various relaxation techniques to make patients more comfortable, including guided imagery as a distraction;
  • complimentary therapies like acupuncture and reflexology; and
  • aids such as portable walkers, commodes and hospital beds to ensure patients are more comfortable in going about their daily activities.


Medical treatments for mesothelioma currently available in Kent & Medway


The final medical speaker was Beverly Brawn, Lung Cancer Nurse Specialist of East Kent Hospitals NHS Trust.


She explained her role in discussing the options with the patients diagnosed with the asbestos-related lung cancer mesothelioma and helping them move forward following diagnosis.


Based on her experience she discussed the range of emotions that a patient goes through once diagnosed with mesothelioma, including the initial shock and struggle most experience in coming to terms with the ultimate prognosis. She explained how planning becomes a vital part of this and how the patient setting goals can really help them to move forward.


Beverly went through the limited current treatment options available to mesothelioma patients;


  • surveillance of the disease;
  • chemotherapy;
  • radiotherapy; and
  • palliative (also referred to as “best supportive”) care.


Beverly also highlighted what’s next for medical treatment of the disease locally, including drug trials and a dedicated Kent Mesothelioma Lung Nurse Specialist. One of the trials due to place this autumn is for immunotherapy. Beverly explained that patients randomised to chemotherapy will be given the option to cross over to receive an antibody drug at progression. If successful it is hoped that immunotherapy treatment could be used more widely for mesothelioma sufferers.

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