Thursday 15 November 2012

Meso-bloods-meso-Part 1

As the end of cycle two of Steve's alimta/carboplatin regime approaches, we feel a bit like the ball in a ping-pong match, ping-ponging between meso-related stuff and blood-related stuff....

Warning!  This is a long blog, so if you want news of Steve's check up go straight to "Meso 2" ....but please read "Meso 1" if you have time, especially if you are new to this disease - there is some useful information there!

Meso 1
Yesterday we attended the inaugural meeting of the first ever support group set up especially for people with mesothelioma and their carers in the Oxford/Thames Valley area.  It was organised by Melanie one of the specialist lung cancer and mesothelioma nurses at the Churchill Hospital Cancer Centre where Steve receives treatment.  The first thing we noticed on entering the room was how many people there were!  Never having met anyone here in this area with meso, I've always assumed that there are only one or maybe two others. How wrong can you be?

Two speakers talked to us after lunch, including Liz Darlison Nurse Consultant with Mesothelioma UK - a familiar name and face to us as she organises the annual national Meso Patients and Carers Day. Liz talked to us about the development, work and aspirations of her charity. To find out more more about Mesothelioma UK, click here .

The other speaker was Dr Rahman, a consultant and senior lecturer at the Oxford Centre for Respiratory Medicine, which is based at the Churchill Hospital campus.  He talked about new directions in mesothelioma treatment and care, highlighting at the start of his talk the close correlation in the UK between asbestos imports and the number of people being diagnosed annually with mesothelioma - the two graph patterns are an almost perfect match, but time-shifted forward 30 years or so because of the long latency period of the disease.  

As asbestos imports in the UK have been banned now for some years, the number of mesothelioma cases is expected to decline in a similar way after peaking in 2020.  But it's a different picture in other parts of the world, especially places like India and China which currently import far more asbestos that the UK ever did, but have far less stringent health and safety regimes.  So....a BIG international problem for the future, which is why (a) asbestos exports should be banned now - and that includes you, Canada and (b) more resources need to be put into research for a cure because this disease will be getting worse worldwide for many years to come.

Dr Rahman then went on to talk about the four main areas of treatment:  

(a) Fluid drainage and management

  • Pleurodesis (the operation which drains fluid from the pleural cavity and then sticks the pleura back together with surgical "talc") works for 7/10 patients.  If there is no recurrence of fluid within three months of the operation, then it's unlikely to happen again - reassuring news for us as Steve had pleurodesis in 2009 and has been OK since then. 
  • In future it seems like more patients will be offered an in-dwelling pleural catheter, which they can use at home to self-drain without an operation - research suggests this option is every bit as effective as pleurodesis.
  • Agents other than surgical talc are also being tested as a means to stick the pleura back together after fluid has been drained 
  • Studies are also underway to develop pills and injections designed to "turn off the tap" and stop fluid forming in the pleural cavity in the first place

(b) Oncology treatment - including chemotherapy and radiotherapy

  • Over the last 5-6 years, chemotherapy has been much more effective at improving both survival rates and quality of life for people with mesothelioma and further progress is expected in the next 3-4 years
  • second line chemotherapy is now being given more often to people who are keen to continue the fight back
  • new chemo agents are being developed and tested in clinical trials, including immunotherapy (4 trials open in the UK at present); agents which target only mesothelioma cells not healthy cells (14 targets in the early stages of research at present); gene therapy, which uses especially modified viruses to get genetic material into meso cells and "turn them off" so they stop growing - currently being pioneered in Pennsylvania, USA
  • Working with DNA and enzymes
(c) Surgery - 
  • the big operation - extrapleural pneumonectomy (EPP) - is out of favour - research indicates that the overall survival rates and quality of life is actually worse for most people who have EPP - generally they don't live as long and their quality of life is worse than patients who don't have EPP
  • the smaller operation - pleurectomy/decortication ie lung-sparing surgery using video-assisted thoracoscopy (VATS) is more effective and is less intrusive for the patient.  This procedure is currently carried out in London, Leicester and Oxford.  It is likely to increase in importance as a means of de-bulking tumours to help breathlessness, especially when used in conjunction with chemotherapy and radiotherapy (tri-modal treatment)
(d) Active symptom control
  • This encompasses regular follow ups; structured assessments; the rapid involvement of specialists when required and parallel quality nursing care.  It can also include the use of medication such as steroids, painkillers and medication for the lung/airways, together with radiotherapy targeted at particular areas to reduce pain
  • Based on lung cancer research, best supportive care improves a patient's quality of life from the outset. People getting best supportive care also live longer :-)  Make sure you get it!
Dr Rahman concluded by saying that the key is patient-centred care - we all have different needs.  Get what is right for/works for you!  Hospitals tend to be good at this whilst patients are undergoing chemotherapy, but the equivalent level of support needs to be in place when chemo stops, or if it doesn't start.

A couple of interesting things came out of the Q & A session at the end
  • X-rays v CT scans - Question: If CT scans give a better picture, why are they not used more often instead of X-rays (which are used in Oxford)? Answer: radiation and money - an x-ray is equivalent to the amount of radiation you get from two days exposure to the sun at the seaside. Radiation from a CT scan is 100 times stronger.  It is also a lot more expensive. So in Oxford it is used for the initial diagnosis and thereafter only if justified ie if treatment would be likely to change as a result of finding something on the scan.
  • Is mesothelioma "rare"?  Yes, but it's more common that melanoma (skin cancer) and cervical cancer, both of which have a higher public profile and awareness - we need to spread the word, if we want to attract more interest from researchers and funding bodies!
The speakers were well received and the group has decided to meet on a regular monthly basis from late January onwards, with lunch followed by a key speaker and time to share experiences, including a break out session for carers, if needed.  

Blood 1
After a long afternoon of meso-related stuff, it was time for bloods.  Not Steve for a change - me giving blood for only the second time this year due to reasons beyond my control.  

I wasn't even sure if they would take my blood this time, as I had to put ticks in quite a few of the red boxes on the screening questionnaire - a recent cold; a flu jab within the last 8 weeks; medical investigations including a scan and biopsy; travel abroad since last donation - Rome, Marrakech, France, Channel Islands....and what do you anwser to the question "have you had sex with someone who has had injections?" when your partner is on chemotherapy and regularly gets injected with all sorts of stuff?  

As it turned out none of these red box ticks were so serious that I couldn't give blood.  What put the proverbial spanner in the worker was the donation nurse not getting the needle in properly, so even after pumping hard for what seemed like ages, the bag was only partly full and the blood had started clotting.  In the end, she gave up and took it out. I'm waiting for a big bruise to appear on my arm!  But at least I tried....

Meso 2
Hard on the heels of yesterday's meso meeting and abortive blood doning session, we were back in hospital again today for more meso-related stuff - Steve's X-ray and check up at the end of chemo cycle 2.  

Setting out in a hurry this morning because we thought we were late, we didn't check the appointment time.  After having to play hunt the parking space again, Steve rushed in to have his X-ray taken before he looked at the appointment card and noticed that it was for 11.40, rather than 11 am as we thought.  Rather than being late, we were well early, so time for a coffee and toasted teacake before heading back to the day clinic on time, only to find we arrived that the chest clinic was running at least an hour late....

It was approaching one o'clock when we finally saw a doctor, but it was worth the wait because the news was good!  Having examined today's X-ray and compared it carefully with the last pre-chemo version, the doctor said that it looked like the pleural thickening had reduced. Difficult to be precise, but definitely going in the right direction after just two cycles of treatment!  

Although Steve has lost more weight (about 1.3 kilos/3 llbs) this appears to be down to changes in our diet in response to the taste-altering side effects of chemo (we are eating more protein, less carbohydrate and there has been a significant reduction in our alcohol intake). In all other respects, Steve appears well in spite of having the remnants of a it's full steam ahead and carry on knocking Leo back even further!

Part 2 of meso - bloods - meso starts tomorrow when will be three years and five months since Steve was first diagnosed, and time to get his bloods done again to check that he's OK to start cycle 3 of chemotherapy next Monday for the next stage in his fight against mesothelioma......

Have a good weekend! 

I'm sure we will after today's encouraging news :-)


  1. Hello, I am glad Steve is fighting back, please could you tell me how to find out about the 4 immunotherapy trials, my dad is late stage diagnosis, would there be a chance he would get on a trial?

    1. Hi there,

      I'm so sorry to hear about your dad. Your dad's consultant should be able to tell you about trials in your area or within traveling distance that are currently recruiting. However, not all trials are suitable for everyone. You have to meet particular criteria for each study. Here is a list of links that might help. Good luck and try to stay positive!


      There is one in London (Barts Hospital) called the ADAM study. Here is a link that tells you more:

      Another study NGR015 is being carried out more widely in Manchester, Miadstone, Leicester, Northwood, Glasgow, Sutton, Cottingham and London. Here is a link:

      This study HSV1716 is currently recruiting in Sheffield:

      This is the drug trail that Steve took part in in 2009. Still recruiting I believe at the Royal Marsden, London:

      This Trovax study one is in Wales (Cardiff):

      This one is due to start recruiting in London (University College) :

  2. Thank you for your reply and info, and good luck in your fight x