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Mesothelioma research

Researchers are looking at the causes, diagnosis and treatment of mesothelioma.

Go to Cancer Research UK’s clinical trials database if you are looking for a trial for mesothelioma in the UK. You need to talk to your specialist if there are any trials that you think you might be able to take part in.

Research and clinical trials

All cancer treatments have to be fully researched before they can be used for everyone. This is so we can be sure that:

  • they work
  • they work better than the treatments already available 
  • they are known to be safe

The latest research into causes, prevention and treatment for mesothelioma is outlined below.

Research into the causes of mesothelioma

Asbestos

Research has confirmed that people who worked in jobs with high levels of exposure to asbestos have an increased lifetime risk of developing mesothelioma or lung cancer. 

In another study, researchers wanted to find out if people in the UK are still being exposed to asbestos. It looked for fibres of asbestos in lung tissue samples from people who’ve had surgery for a collapsed lung (pneumothorax).

The study team found that both exposure to asbestos and the risk of developing pleural mesothelioma are falling in the UK.

Immune system

Researchers want to learn more about how the immune system affects mesothelioma development. To do this, they are looking at samples of fluid drained from a build up of fluid in the chest (pleural effusion).

Research into diagnosing mesothelioma

Clinical trials are looking at different ways to diagnose mesothelioma earlier.

Blood and lung fluid tests

Mesothelioma can be very difficult to diagnose. Researchers are looking at substances in the blood, called biomarkers. They hope to use these biomarkers to diagnose mesothelioma in the future.

Having fluid in the lining of your lung can have many different causes. Doctors want to improve how they diagnose the cause. They are looking at blood tests that may be able to pick up heart failure and infection. And they are looking at blood and lung fluid tests which might pick up types of cancer of the lung lining, including mesothelioma.

If used at the right time, it may mean that people need fewer tests and can be given the correct treatment sooner.

Scans

Doctors usually take a sample (biopsy) of tissue guided by a CT scan, to diagnose pleural mesothelioma. Sometimes the biopsy doesn't show cancer cells or the result isn't clear.

A PET-CT scan highlights area where cells are more active. Cancer cells are usually more active than normal cells.

Researchers want to find out whether a PET-CT scan, followed by a CT guided biopsy is better at diagnosing pleural mesothelioma than a CT guided biopsy alone.

Research into treatment for mesothelioma

Treatment for mesothelioma usually aims to control the disease and keep symptoms under control for as long as possible. Unfortunately, mesothelioma can be difficult to treat so doctors are always looking for new ways to treat it.

Surgery

Doctors sometimes treat mesothelioma with a combination of chemotherapy and surgery. But there isn't enough evidence to show whether surgery benefits people or not.  So researchers want to find out whether chemotherapy alone or chemotherapy and surgery is better at treating mesothelioma.

Researchers also want to find out the best way to relieve symptoms of mesothelioma. They are comparing a tube (catheter) to drain fluid with a type of keyhole surgery. They want to find out which is the best way of controlling breathlessness. 

Chemotherapy

Chemotherapy can help some people with mesothelioma live longer. You might have it on its own or combined with other treatment.

Researchers are looking into:

  • different chemotherapy drugs
  • combining chemotherapy with other treatments, such as targeted cancer drugs

Targeted cancer drugs and immunotherapy

Targeted cancer drugs work by ‘targeting’ those differences that help a cancer cell to grow and survive. Some seek out and destroy cancer cells. Others help the body's immune system to attack the cancer. So some of these drugs are also called immunotherapies.

Researchers are looking at giving these drugs on their own or with chemotherapy. Researchers are looking at different types of targeted drugs and immunotherapies for mesothelioma, including:

  •     nivolumab
  •     bevacizumab
  •     atezolizumab
  •     nintedanib

Researchers are also looking at other ways to stimulate the immune system to treat mesothelioma of the lung. One team of researchers is comparing 2 different types of bacteria to stimulate the immune system to destroy mesothelioma cells. 

Researchers are also looking at a type of immune cell called dendritic cells. The researchers mix a sample of your 'dendritic' immune cells with cells taken from your cancer. They want to find out if this helps the immune system recognise and attack mesothelioma cells.

Radiotherapy

Researchers are looking at radiotherapy to manage pain caused by mesothelioma. They are comparing the usual dose of radiotherapy with a higher dose. They want to find out if a higher dose of radiotherapy works better than the usual dose to treat pain. They also want to learn more about the side effects.

Other treatments

Researchers are looking at a new way to destroy mesothelioma cells. A new drug called ADI-PEG 20 removes an amino acid called arginine. Arginine helps with many different jobs in the body, including cell division.

Researchers have found that ADI-PEG 20 is safe and helps people with mesothelioma in the chest. Researchers are now doing another study to see how well ADI-PEG 20 combined with chemotherapy works for people with advanced mesothelioma.

Information and help