Experimental Treatments

Malignant mesothelioma is an extremely challenging form of cancer. Though physicians and researchers have made great strides in extending survival time for patients diagnosed early, it continues to be considered fatal, and in some cases moves so quickly that patients die within months of having symptoms appear. One of the most frustrating aspects of treating mesothelioma has been the conditions resistance to the traditional therapies that have proven effective in treating other forms of cancer, including chemotherapy, surgery and radiation therapy. The failure of these treatments to do anything but offer a few extra months of life has led to research into a variety of experimental treatments.

Targeted Therapies

One of the most promising areas of research has been into targeted therapies. This approach uses drugs that stop cancer from taking hold or spreading by interfering with receptors, which are the parts of them that are involved in their growth. Targeted therapies are different from chemotherapy because they look for specific targets, while chemotherapy simply kills any cells that divide quickly. Their goal is not to kill cells but to stop them from growing, dividing or spreading.


Immunotherapy strengthens the patient’s own immune system, providing it with tools to attack cancer cells more effectively. It may take the form of a vaccine, a medication that can encourage the immune system to recognize and attack cancer cells, or the administration of proteins that specifically search out and attack mesothelioma cells. Mesothelioma researchers have been looking closely at each of these versions of immunotherapy, including the potential for a medication called avelumab that has been used effectively in treating other types of cancer.

Gene Therapy

Gene therapy changes the DNA of mesothelioma cancer cells, inserting genes that stop the cells from growing and dividing into tumors or that cause the cells to die. These are often delivered via viruses that infect the cancer cells.

Photodynamic Therapy

Photodynamic therapy administers a special type of drug known as a photosensitizer that makes mesothelioma cells responsive to exposure to a certain type of light. The drug is usually given via an injection and is specifically designed to remain in cancer cells longer than in healthy cells. Then the cancer is exposed to the special type of light, either during surgery or via tiny fiber optic tubes that are inserted into the body. The light activates the drug, which then kills the mesothelioma cells.


Cryotherapy is a process that uses chemicals like argon or super-cooled nitrogen to freeze cancer cells. The malignant mesothelioma tumor is then thawed, and frozen again. This process eventually damages the cancer cells and the blood vessels that feed them.