Could There Ever Be a Cure for Mesothelioma?

Scientists, researchers, and doctors all over the world are fighting to improve public health and introduce new treatment options for the deadliest and most devastating conditions that plague us. Among the most aggressive diseases is mesothelioma, which while rare, is especially deadly.

Why don’t we have a cure for this malignant and painful disease? And could we have one in the future?

What Is Mesothelioma?

First, we need to understand what mesothelioma is. Mesothelioma is a rare type of cancer. It almost exclusively occurs in individuals who have been exposed to material known as asbestos. Asbestos had many advantages in construction, so it was used quite heavily for many decades. Unfortunately, it also has the side effect of spurring mesothelioma growth.

Asbestos itself contains tiny, jagged fibers. When inhaled, these fibers lodge themselves in the mesothelial lining of the lungs (and sometimes other organs). This thin tissue, when irritated for long enough, can eventually develop cancer cells that grow and spread aggressively. Mesothelioma can lie dormant for years, or even decades, but when it starts developing, it tends to spread quickly. While some treatments do exist and can minimize certain symptoms, mesothelioma is almost always fatal – and many patients die within one year of diagnosis.

Why Curing Mesothelioma Is Challenging

Why is curing mesothelioma so challenging?

  •       The nature of cancer cells. Diseases are often cured by identifying and eliminating the underlying cause of those diseases. In the case of many illnesses, this underlying cause is a bacteria, virus, fungi, or parasite that has infected or infested the body. But cancer is different; it’s caused by cancerous cells, which are your own body’s cells, which have begun to grow and multiply uncontrollably. This makes cancer notoriously hard to cure or even treat. Almost every available treatment method has the potential to affect other cells in the body, and some cures and treatment methods are completely off the table because of the risk they could present to the person suffering from the disease. This is a problem across all cancer types.
  •       Limited knowledge. While scientists understand mesothelioma better now than they ever did in the past, there’s still a lot we don’t know about this disease. We understand how it develops and behaves within the body, but we don’t fully understand how to stop it from spreading or how to remove it from the body safely. It may take many years, or even decades of further research to get to a level of understanding that allows us to develop a cure.
  •       Limited data and test subjects. On top of that, there are limited data available on this topic. Mesothelioma is a very rare disease that only affects a few thousand people each year. Those people may have very different symptoms and pathologies, making it hard to use them as a source of new information. This also makes it challenging to test new treatments and cure possibilities.
  •       Multiple types of mesothelioma. Mesothelioma most commonly affects the lungs, but it can also affect the lining of the stomach or the heart. While these diseases share a name, they affect the body in very different ways.
  •       Tumor dormancy and lack of awareness. Mesothelioma usually develops in a dormancy or latency period. This disease can develop over the course of decades without the person even knowing about it. Accordingly, it’s very hard for scientists and doctors to study the progression of this disease from the earliest stages. After all, patients generally don’t seek treatment for diseases they don’t even know they have.
  •       Potential to spread. Mesothelioma has a high rate of growth and spreading in the body; in fact, it’s one of the most aggressive and deadliest forms of cancer we know about. Even if we had a way to completely eradicate mesothelioma cells in one area of the body, we don’t have a control mechanism to eliminate it everywhere. Once cancer starts spreading aggressively, treatment becomes untenable.
  •       Age and health robustness. Partially because of the limitations of asbestos exposure, and partially because of the dormancy period of mesothelioma, this disease almost always presents itself in older individuals, who may have many other health issues. Older people in poorer health are much harder to treat, as certain treatment methods become unavailable to them.

Technology changes rapidly. Scientific understanding expands every day. In some ways, it’s silly to speculate about whether there could ever be a cure for mesothelioma, because humanity has at least thousands, and probably millions of years to develop one. But suffice it to say, there are many challenges impeding progress on the development of a cure for mesothelioma, and it’s unlikely that we’ll have one anytime soon. 

That said, there is reason for optimism; mesothelioma is getting rarer, and new, innovative treatment methods can help patients live longer. There may not be a cure, but there are more options available with each passing year.

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