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.

Some of the trials on this page have now stopped recruiting people. It takes time before the results are available. This is because the trial team follow the patients for a period of time and collect and analyse the results. We have included this ongoing research to give examples of the type of research being carried out in mesothelioma.

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

Research into the causes of mesothelioma

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).

Another small trial is comparing 2 different types of bacteria. These will be used to stimulate the immune system and destroy mesothelioma cells.

Research into diagnosing mesothelioma

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

Blood and lung fluid tests

Mesothelioma can be 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 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 have the correct treatment sooner.

Scans

To diagnose mesothelioma, doctors usually take a sample of tissue (biopsy) guided by a CT scan. Sometimes the biopsy doesn't show cancer cells or the result isn't clear. A PET-CT scan highlights areas 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. It 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. Researchers want to find out whether chemotherapy alone or chemotherapy and surgery is better at treating mesothelioma.

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 such as vinorelbine
  • combining chemotherapy with other treatments, such as targeted cancer drugs and bisphosphonates

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. They are also looking at different types of targeted drugs and immunotherapies for mesothelioma, including:

  •     nintedanib
  •     defactinib

A study is looking into whether certain targeted drugs can treat mesothelioma that continues to grow or come back after chemotherapy. They are looking for certain substances (biomarkers) in the mesothelioma cells to help with this.

Nivolumab has shown to help stop mesothelioma from growing, and help people live longer. It's been suggested as a treatment option for people whose mesothelioma has come back after chemotherapy.

Following results of a phase 3 trial, the Scottish Medicines Consortium (SMC) has recently approved nivolumab with another immunotherapy drug called ipilimumab. It is for people with untreated pleural mesothelioma that can't be removed with surgery.

Pembrolizumab is another treatment for advanced mesothelioma that doctors are looking at. Patients found the side effects manageable.  

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. Researchers believe by removing this it might stop cancer cells from growing.

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

Research into quality of life

Pleural mesothelioma can cause physical, emotional, and mental symptoms. Research shows that people with cancer can benefit from specialist palliative care support. And this increases quality of life.

However, a recent study found that referring people with mesothelioma early for support, didn't improve their quality of life. They did find that carers of those who saw the specialist palliative care team were more satisfied with the care their loved one received. 

Another study’s main aim is to gather information about people with mesothelioma to improve their care and treatment. To do this they are collecting information about:

  • people's quality of life
  • symptoms
  • blood samples
  • tests they have had

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