Although malignant pleural mesothelioma (MPM) remains a rare disease, Memorial Sloan Kettering has considerable experience with this malignancy, and our specialists are at the forefront of translating new approaches for the treatment of mesothelioma into the clinic.
At Memorial Sloan Kettering, patients with mesothelioma are managed by a mesothelioma working group that consists of specialists from multiple disciplines who use a personalized approach to achieve accurate diagnosis, stage, and treatment stratification. In general, patients with suspected mesothelioma are often misdiagnosed, owing to a lack of pathological expertise and the selection of inappropriate biopsies.
Memorial Sloan Kettering is one of the nation’s largest tertiary referral centers for this disease, and our dedicated mesothelioma working group, which meets regularly to discuss all mesothelioma patients undergoing treatment at our center, has the skills and knowledge to ensure optimal management is consistently achieved.
This patient-centered approach to the management of mesothelioma, built on our uncommon experience and expertise, positions us as authorities in the treatment and translational research of this rare and aggressive disease.
A Leader in Establishing Management Paradigms
Patients evaluated for mesothelioma at Memorial Sloan Kettering benefit from our extensive experience with this rare tumor, which includes the largest study published to date (945 patients) on long-term outcomes among mesothelioma patients at a single center. The development and maintenance of this vast and meticulous database enables us to design a customized management algorithm for each patient.
For example, to determine the most appropriate surgical resection for each patient, we employ an algorithm that takes into account the potential resectability of the tumor and the individual’s cardiopulmonary reserve — an approach that ensures tolerance of the planned surgical approach and results in better functional outcomes.
The database has also enabled us to establish patient-management paradigms that have subsequently been adopted by physicians and official medical associations around the globe.
Through our approach of systematically evaluating each mesothelioma patient by CT scan, PET scan, and lung function tests, we are able to optimize patients for surgical resection and avoid unnecessary surgery that may delay treatment. Our preoperative assessment skills reflect our extensive research on these imaging modalities.(1) With the assistance of Memorial Sloan Kettering radiologists, we are now developing advanced imaging techniques to accurately quantify tumor burden and monitor therapy response.
Working in concert with Memorial Sloan Kettering pathologists, our mesothelioma researchers have identified the key morphological characteristics that drive progression of mesothelioma. These developments have helped inform the efforts of the World Health Organization and other international associations to reclassify mesothelioma.(2),(3)
Pioneers in Surgical Techniques
Mesothelioma patients with early-stage disease are managed by curative-intent surgical resection, using either extrapleural pneumonectomy or pleurectomy and decortication. Our surgeons pioneered these techniques and have trained surgeons across the globe on using them.
In carefully selected patients, extrapleural pneumonectomy — which involves the removal of the involved lung lining, heart lining, nearby lymph nodes, and diaphragm — provides an excellent option. The expertise of our nursing and surgical floor staff is key in successfully managing these patients in the immediate postoperative period.
The majority of mesothelioma patients undergo pleurectomy and decortication — a lung-sparing surgical procedure that aggressively and carefully removes the tumor — so that they can quickly recover and then undergo chemotherapy and/or radiation therapy. To prevent recurrence of cancer following surgical resection, our radiation oncologists have developed an intensity-modulated radiation technique that precisely targets the tumor while sparing the underlying healthy tissue — namely, the lung (Figure 1). As leading experts in this field, our radiation oncologists have helped to train their colleagues at major cancer centers both nationally and internationally.
Moving the Field Forward
We continue to lead efforts to elucidate the biological profile of MPM and advance imaging modalities and therapies. Landmark publications from our center have shed light on the biology of this aggressive disease.(4),(5),(6) We are currently working to translate new imaging modalities developed in clinically relevant mouse models (Figure 2) for use in patients.
Intraoperative fluorescence technique for visualizing pleural mesothelioma, developed in a mouse model that is now being adapted for human use in a clinical trial.
In addition, in an ongoing clinical trial of oncolytic vaccinia virus (which uses genetically modified smallpox virus to kill cancer cells), we are investigating real-time fluorescent techniques to visualize the microscopic deposits of the tumor in the operating room; this will enable us to accurately assess and remove the entire tumor.
Even more promising, our researchers have identified the beneficial role of antitumor immune responses(7) and have discovered candidate cancer antigens to effectively target the tumor.(8) We anticipate the initiation of a novel adoptive T-cell immunotherapy clinical trial for mesothelioma patients later this year. In this clinical trial, we will administer the patient’s own immune cells, genetically engineered to target and kill cancer cells, through tunneled pleural catheters that we pioneered for use in mesothelioma patients.(9)