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What Drugs are FDA Approved for Treating Malignant Mesothelioma?

Mesothelioma treatment has come a long way over the years, with hundreds of experimental therapies now in varying phases of testing. In fact, the American Cancer Society (ACS) says, “there is always research going on in the area of mesothelioma” as scientists are always “looking for better ways to prevent, diagnose, and treat mesothelioma.” In the meantime, the current standard treatments for mesothelioma are surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy.

“These treatments often have limited usefulness against mesothelioma,” says the ACS, so “researchers are studying newer forms of treatment” such as gene therapy, immunotherapy, targeted drugs, virus therapies, and photodynamic therapy. Targeted drugs, among the most promising new treatments, are being heavily tested as a treatment for mesothelioma as they work differently from standard chemo drugs. “They sometimes work when chemo drugs don’t, and they often have different (and less severe) side effects.”

Sutent (sunitinib malate) is an example of a targeted drug that has shown great promise in some studies. As of 2012, the drug was active and approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for gastrointestinal stromal tumor (GIST), advanced renal cell carcinoma (also called kidney cancer or renal adenocarcinoma), and advanced pancreatic NET. Sutent is not yet approved for mesothelioma (give it time), but several other drugs are. They include Alimta (Pemetrexed Disodium) and the combination Gemcitabine-Cisplatin (GC).

Alimta is approved for use alone or with other drugs to treat malignant pleural mesothelioma in patients who cannot be treated with surgery. It is also approved for non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC). The drug, an anti-metabolite, works by preventing cells from making and repairing DNA so they can't grow and multiply. It is typically administered every three weeks directly into the bloodstream, through an IV, or a central line.

The drug combination Gemcitabine-Cisplatin typically works better than single drugs because different drugs kill cancer in different ways. According to Cancer Research UK, GC works by destroying “quickly dividing cells.” It is administered directly into the bloodstream intravenously and as cycles of treatment. Each cycle takes three or four weeks with between four to six cycles of treatment taking three to six months.

GC is also approved for other difficult to treat cancers such as biliary, bladder, cervical, NSCLC, ovarian, and pancreatic cancer.

If you have been diagnosed with mesothelioma, talk to your doctor about all of your options, including both approved and potentially life-saving newer forms of treatment.



American Cancer Society. American Cancer Society, Inc., 17 Feb. 2016. Web. 19 Dec. 2017. 

Cancer Research UK. Cancer Research UK, 02 July 2014. Web. 19 Dec. 2017.

National Cancer Institute. National Institutes of Health (NIH), 25 Oct. 2011. Web. 19 Dec. 2017.