FROM THE HEADLINES: Photodynamic Therapy Added to Lung-Sparing Surgery Improves Survival for Mesothelioma Patients

The website Medical News Today recently released findings of a new treatment for patients with malignant pleural mesothelioma. The treatment involves PDT (photodynamic therapy) conjunction with lung-sparing surgery. Results look promising in comparison to patients utilizing other mesothelioma treatment options. In this approach, provided the patient can keep both lungs after treatment, patients face better chances in combatting mesothelioma once it returns. Patient are given a photosensitive drug that cancer cells absorb, and then Fiber optics direct light onto the tumor site, which activates the drugs, and destroys the cancerous cells.

Leading this research from the Perelman School of Medicine, University of Pennsylvania, is Dr. Joseph Friedberg, MD. In this battle against mesothelioma, considered one of the most aggressive forms of cancer, Dr. Friedberg has stated, “While I don’t consider anything short of a cure as a victory against mesothelioma, I am encouraged by our results. Based on our new findings, we are redoubling our clinical and translational research efforts to find a way to further improve and refine this multimodality treatment approach for mesothelioma.”

“There are other intraoperative adjuvant treatments that are being used, primarily variation of hyperthermic chemotherapy, but PDT therapy in itself is unique.” Dr. Friedberg also states, “What sets the PDT apart from other mesothelioma treatment options is that we always perform lung-sparing surgery. PDT spares the lung and also achieves a macroscopic complete resection, regardless of tumor bulk.”

Dr. Friedberg believes that this is a new direction in mesothelioma treatment. “While lung-sparing surgery appears to be gaining some traction, my sense is that pneumonectomy remains the most common approach. Extrapleural pneumonectomy is certainly the most standardized operation and, I suspect, leaves behind the least amount of microscopic disease.”

Currently the treatment is available only at UPENN. This could change soon as Dr. Friedberg and his team are also collaborating with Roswell Park on a Phase I trial with a different photosensitizer but same surgical approach.

Concerning any side effects, Dr. Friedberg assures that they are about the same as with any major chest operation. “The PDT does not appear to have much in the way of additional substantive side effects, except possibly for a higher incidence of blood clots than we would expect to see with the same operation without PDT. The patients are light sensitive, from a week to a month, depending on the photosensitizer.  I honestly cannot recall any patients having had sunburns or complications related to this since our very first patients in the 1990’s. With proper education the light sensitivity is a non-issue.”

Dr. Friedberg’s team has seen positive outcomes and results with this lung-sparing surgery plus photodynamic therapy.

“We are working together as a team, not just in the clinic but in the laboratory as well, to find the best way to combine our respective expertise,” Dr. Friedberg says. “Our goal is an innovative combined treatment that represents a new level of a multipronged attack on this horrendous cancer.”

Dr. Friedberg presented on photodynamic therapy and his research at the Meso Foundation’ Symposium in 2010. The video of the presentation can be viewed here.


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