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Epigenetic Therapy

New treatment options for mesothelioma are emerging every year. Research is starting to focus on genetic manipulations through epigenetic therapy. This emerging personalized treatment option aims to reprogram mesothelioma cells back to their once healthy state. Doctors and mesothelioma researchers are continuing to study epigenetic therapy in clinical trials.

Fact-Checked and Updated by: Jenna Tozzi, RN

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What Is Epigenetic Therapy?

DNA provides the code to guide all cell functions and behaviors within the human body. Unfortunately, sometimes errors or changes in DNA replication cause cancerous cells to emerge. These changes are considered epigenetic traits passed down in a hereditary process.

Epigenetic therapy tries to correct some of these changes to make cancer cells less likely to emerge, stop growing, or be more responsive to other treatment options.

Over the past decade, our understanding of epigenetic regulation in both normal and cancer cells has dramatically increased. Studies have shown that epigenetic factors regulate the start and ongoing growth of cancer. This research is being used to develop drugs that reverse cancerous epigenetic changes with promising results found in treating mesothelioma.

Reversing Cancer Cell Mutations

Unlike DNA abnormalities, epigenetic changes can be reversed and manipulated. When looking at the potential of this manipulation, epigenetic therapy can turn cancer cells back to healthy cells.

Epigenetic Therapy for Mesothelioma

The goal of epigenetic therapy is to reprogram cancer cells back to their original state using various chemical and biological agents.

Research has shown that epigenetic alternators are common events in the development of mesothelioma. This research provided the rationale for further investigation into epigenetic therapy for the treatment of mesothelioma.

Pleural Mesothelioma and Epigenetic Therapy

Pleural mesothelioma is caused by exposure to airborne asbestos fibers that irritate the lungs. This irritation triggers mesothelioma cells to form within the lung lining (pleura). Standard treatments for pleural mesothelioma include chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery. However, epigenetic therapy for cancer could offer a less invasive and more personalized treatment alternative.

Pleural mesothelioma cells have very few mutations, meaning epigenetic alterations may be critical factors that determine how these cells mutate.

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Like other cancers, pleural mesothelioma affects tumor suppressor genes — genes that protect cells from one step on the path toward cancerous mutation.

Certain types of epigenetic therapy drugs have lacked success in treating pleural mesothelioma. However, that may be because these agents have been administered to maximum patient tolerance levels, resulting in toxicities.

Recent studies into epigenetic therapy for pleural mesothelioma have shown that long-term exposure to epigenetic drugs is required to achieve positive results.

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Benefits of Epigenetic Therapy

Epigenetic analysis and therapy are important parts of modern mesothelioma research and a large step towards personalized and minimally invasive treatment for the disease.

Epigenetic therapy, when combined with conventional treatment methods, may bring benefits for mesothelioma patients, including:

  • Increased life expectancy
  • Reduced risks of recurrence
  • Reversal of resistance to conventional forms of mesothelioma treatment

Studies have shown that epigenetic therapy not only presents an initial response to cancer cells but provides long-term resistance as well.

Latest Research in Epigenetic Therapy

A researcher examines cancer cells under a microscope

Given the relatively new use of epigenetic therapy for mesothelioma treatment, epigenetic therapy drugs are only being administered through clinical trials and are not yet approved for use by the general public.

Many epigenetic therapy drugs, when administered intravenously or taken orally, are not always effective in patients with solid mesothelioma tumors. However, recent animal studies have found that these epigenetic drugs could be taken with other drugs to increase their effectiveness.

Researchers believe that the generally low survival rate of mesothelioma patients may be because many patients build a resistance to chemotherapy. The decrease in response to chemotherapy drugs is due to epigenetic errors, which lead to poor gene expression in tumor cells.

Epigenetic Therapy as a Chemotherapy Support Treatment

Studies have found that epigenetic therapy may target gene expression errors and increases the effectiveness of chemotherapy treatments. In other words, epigenetic therapy can reduce cancer cell resistance to chemotherapy.

Preclinical data and clinical trials suggest that epigenetic therapy may also improve the efficacy of immunotherapy — a treatment that uses immune-boosting drugs to kill cancerous cells.

Epigenetic therapy may also increase patient survival rates depending on the mesothelioma’s location and stage and slow the cancer’s progression. Future studies may allow researchers to gain a better understanding of how epigenetic and conventional mesothelioma treatments work together to bring further benefits to patients.

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Getting Epigenetic Therapy for Mesothelioma

Given its rarity and complexity, mesothelioma can be a challenging disease to treat and manage. This does not mean that mesothelioma patients are without hope. Mesothelioma doctors and researchers are committed to developing new and effective treatments for the disease.

Novel approaches such as epigenetic therapy are essential to one day finding a cure, even if the treatment itself hasn’t yet shown tremendous results for mesothelioma.

If you are interested in epigenetic therapy clinical trials, contact our Patient Advocates at (866) 608-8933 today.

Mesothelioma Epigenetic Therapy FAQs

Is epigenetic therapy used to treat mesothelioma cancer?

Possibly, yes. Doctors may explore epigenetic clinical trials for patients of mesothelioma, especially if the patient is developing a resistance to chemotherapy drugs. Resistance to chemotherapy is often caused by gene expression issues, which can be addressed in epigenetic therapy.

The treatment method is not yet widely used for mesothelioma treatment, but a mesothelioma specialist may be able to help you access treatment. Contact our Patient Advocates at (866) 608-8933 for help finding a doctor near you.

What is the best treatment method for mesothelioma?

Each type of mesothelioma is unique. For this reason, many people may need different treatment methods to effectively treat their mesothelioma. There is no singular best treatment method for mesothelioma.

Instead, many doctors may recommend a multimodal treatment plan, which combines multiple treatment methods into one plan. For example, chemotherapy can be used with surgery to ensure that no mesothelioma cancer cells are left behind.

Jenna TozziWritten by:

Director of Patient Advocacy

Jenna Tozzi, RN, is the Director of Patient Advocacy at Mesothelioma Hope. With more than 15 years of experience as an adult and pediatric oncology nurse navigator, Jenna provides exceptional guidance and support to mesothelioma patients and their loved ones. Jenna has been featured in Oncology Nursing News and is a member of the Academy of Oncology Nurse & Patient Navigators & the American Nurses Association.

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  1. Ahuja, N., Sharma AR, Baylin SB. Epigenetic therapeutics: A new weapon in the war against cancer. Annu Rev Med. 2016;67:73-89. doi: 10.1146/annurev-med-111314-035900. PMID: 26768237; PMCID: PMC4937439. Accessed on December 29, 2022.

  2. Vandermeers, F., et al (2013). The role of epigenetics in malignant pleural mesothelioma. Lung Cancer, 81(3), 311-318. Retrieved from: Accessed on December 29, 2022.

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