Cancer Research Awareness Month: Peritoneal Mesothelioma

Screen Shot 2012-06-11 at 3.59.39 PMBy Mary Hesdorffer, Nurse Practitioner and Executive Director of the Meso Foundation

In 1996 I began my career in clinical research which ultimately led to a focus solely on mesothelioma clinical research. At that time, there was no standard of care and clinical trials were being developed that would lead to some significant changes in the way we approach mesothelioma. Peritoneal mesothelioma trials were being written and patients enrolled. Today many of those patients are alive and able to share their experiences from those early efforts. Researchers and patients can now share their collaboration while traveling together through uncharted territories.

During those early years, Hyperthermic intraperitoneal chemotherapy (HIPEC) was being tested at a select number of centers around the country and has now become the standard of care in peritoneal mesothelioma. HIPEC refers to a procedure which starts with a debulking surgery (visible evidence of disease is removed along with a number of involved organs) that is followed by a heated profusion of chemotherapy, delivered directly into the abdomen in an attempt to kill any microscopic disease not removed during the surgical portion of the treatment modality.

The careers of some of the leading doctors in mesothelioma were being established and I am proud to say that most have remained focused on the care of patients with mesothelioma.  In 2004, the first ever international meeting focused on peritoneal mesothelioma took place. I was one of the participants and there was a sense of excitement in the room as we looked around and realized how many brilliant minds were focused on the treatment and understanding of peritoneal mesothelioma. Research has continued with a focus on the type of drugs used during HIPEC as well as ways to augment the response. Doctors are now studying the use of both HIPEC and intravenous therapy to see if they can continue to push the response and survival of those with peritoneal mesothelioma. We know what we do today due to the courage of those early patients and the brilliance of those early pioneers in mesothelioma research.

I refer mainly to these doctors though HIPEC has now been introduced and used for a variety of other cancers. I believe it is important that the researchers have access to tissue,  learn more about the lived experience of mesothelioma through interaction with mesothelioma families, and that new deliveries and new drugs continue to be tested to build upon what we already know. The Mesothelioma Virtual Tissue Bank is a vital resource to our community and our researchers are the ones who maintain and enrich the bank. If patients are directed to non-mesothelioma research centers then this precious source of data and information will be lost.

I have been part of the historical development of mesothelioma and it is my role to see to it that research continues to be funded and patients continue to be supported as they explore their clinical trial options.

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