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Posted on Monday, Jun 25, 2012

Penn Surgeons Make Strides in Fight Against Mesothelioma with Lung Sparing Surgery and Photodynamic Therapy

Mesothelioma X-rayby Nancy Meredith

Over the last few years, University of Pennsylvania surgeons have been leading the way in mesothelioma research. Penn Medicine surgeons have demonstrated that while mesothelioma is a daunting disease, finding the best way to treat the cancer takes patience and years of research. Now, their patience and perseverance may be paying off.

In a recent Annals of Thoracic Surgery article, the Penn mesothelioma researchers report they have achieved an “unusually long survival” in patients undergoing surgery and photodynamic therapy (PDT).

Led by Dr. Joseph Friedberg, co-director of the Penn Mesothelioma and Pleural Program, the mesothelioma medical team achieved a 97% macroscopic complete resection, which refers to the removal of all visible tumor cells, on 38 patients. In addition, the median survival was 31.7 months for all 38 patients.The typical median survival for mesothelioma patients is less than a year.

Friedberg reports that although the patients had recurrence of the disease in less than 10 months, their survival was still over two years. Friedberg said he could not attribute the survival to any one factor, but he believes it is potentially related to “preservation of the lung or some PDT-induced effect, or both.”

Although the Penn findings were published several weeks ago and presented by MesotheliomHelp.net in early June, on Sunday the Philadelphia Inquirer highlighted the successes of the Penn mesothelioma team in a featured article. The successes realized by the mesothelioma experts required not only the knowledge and expertise of years of surgeries and research, but also physical endurance. The lung-sparing radical pleurectomy/decortication (P/D) surgery, a complicated surgery that involves stripping away the diseased membrane lining the lung but keeping the lung intact, has taken Friedberg up to 14 hours to complete on some patients.

Friedberg attributes his stamina to years of crewing on the Penn crew team –and sheer determination. “You just keep going no matter how much it hurts or how tired you are. You just have to make the commitment that you’re not going to fail [patients] that way,” he said.

Remarkably, many of the patients come out of the surgery and resume an active lifestyle within weeks. In fact, the Inquirer reports, one woman in her 80s was back on the golf course just months after Friedberg operated on her. In another case, a man who underwent an 11.5-hour surgery, followed by another 8-hour surgery the next day after suffering complications, took just four weeks to bounce back and start walking around the local market.

The successes that Friedberg and his team have achieved are truly remarkable. Giving patients back their lives after hearing that their disease is incurable has changed the outlook for many patients and mesothelioma experts. But, Friedberg is not one to rest on his laurels.

“I’d be happy to turn this [mesothelioma] into a chronic disease, like diabetes,” Friedberg said. “My goal for my career is to make it truly better for these patients. That’s what I want to do with the rest of my life.”

Mesothelioma is a cancer caused by past exposure to asbestos particles. Nearly 3,000 Americans are diagnosed with the disease each year.Currently, there is no cure for the disease.

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Nancy Meredith is a blog and web content writer with more than 20 years of professional experience in the Information Technology industry. She has been writing about Mesothelioma for 4 years. Follow Nancy on Google+

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