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Leukemia Drug Could Make Mesothelioma a Manageable Condition, Study Says

Malignant mesothelioma is a cancer that starts in cells in the linings of certain parts of the body, especially in the linings of the chest or abdomen. Symptoms of this rare but aggressive disease include pain in the side of the chest of lower back, cough, shortness of breath, fever, fatigue, weight loss, hoarseness, and swelling of the face and arms for pleural mesothelioma (mesothelioma of the chest). Symptoms of peritoneal (abdominal) mesothelioma include abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, swelling or fluid of the abdomen, constipation, and weight loss. There is no cure for this chronic disease.

Though researchers have yet to find a cure for mesothelioma, treatment options have come a long way and more and more patients are living longer, more productive lives after being diagnosed. In fact, researchers now say a daily drug for a form of cancer called chronic myelogenous leukemia (CML) can extend survival, minimize the need for chemotherapy, and spare cancer patients of often debilitating side effects. According to a 2017 NBC News Report, “the once-a-day pill turned chronic myelogenous leukemia, or CML, from a certain death sentence into a manageable disease. Now data shows it’s helped 83 percent of patients live 10 years or longer, even with side effects that include a characteristic rash, nausea and fatigue.”

The drug, Gleevec (generic name imatinib), is “the first targeted personalized medicine that had ever been used. It was also the most successful,” said Dr. Richard Silver, a hematologist and oncologist at New York Presbyterian-Weill Cornell Medical Center who helped first test the drug in patients. Before the drug became available, CML patients had just two options when it came to treating the disease—chemotherapy or a bone marrow transplant. Sadly, even with treatment, patients rarely lived longer than three years. 

Gleevec worked “so well and so quickly,” says NBC, “that the trial testing the drug against the older chemo regimen was stopped so everyone could get the pill.” FDA approval was immediate and “now the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society estimates 36,000 to 100,000 Americans are CML survivors.” Some CML patients respond so well that, after a while, they stop taking the drug altogether.

So what does all of this mean for mesothelioma patients? In separate studies, research showed that imatinib effectively blocked tumor growth in lung cancer cases and that the drug boosts the therapeutic response to gemcitabine in combination treatment for malignant mesothelioma. Mesothelioma and pleural mesothelioma are often treated with similar conventions.

The CML study, Long-Term Outcomes of Imatinib Treatment for Chronic Myeloid Leukemia, was published in the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) and funded by Novartis, the maker of the drug.



Fox, Maggie. "Cancer Pill Gleevec Keeps Patients Alive and Well for a Decade." NBCUniversal News Group, 09 Mar. 2017. Web. 14 July 2017.

Hochhaus, Andreas, Richard A. Larson, and Francois Guilhot. "Long-Term Outcomes of Imatinib Treatment for Chronic Myeloid Leukemia." New England Journal of Medicine. New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM), 2017. Web. 14 July 2017.

"Signs and Symptoms of Mesothelioma." American Cancer Society. American Cancer Society, Inc., 2017. Web. 14 July 2017.

"What is Malignant Mesothelioma?" American Cancer Society. American Cancer Society, Inc., 2017. Web. 14 July 2017.