Pleural mesothelioma: little evidence, still time to do trials

The Lancet 364, no. 9440 (2004): 1183-5. [Link]

Treasure T, Sedrakyan A.

Cardiothoracic Unit, Guy’s Hospital, London SE1 9RT, UK.


Context: The incidence of malignant pleural mesothelioma is increasing throughout most of the world. This cancer is uniformly fatal, and characterised by progressive breathlessness and unremitting pain in the chest wall. From the onset of symptoms, survival is from a few weeks to a few years. Desperation by patients and doctors has driven a search for effective treatments. Clinical benefits are marginal and evidence of a good quality is lamentably lacking.

Starting Point: David Sugarbaker is the world’s leading proponent of extrapleural pneumonectomy (EPP), an operation in which all the pleura is removed with the lung, pericardium, and diaphragm. He has recently reported the complications of this radical surgery in a series of 496 operations (J Thorac Cardiovasc Surg 2004; 128: 138-46). Although EPP as part of trimodality therapy (preoperative chemotherapy and postoperative radiation) is thought to be the best that can be offered and is regarded as the standard of care for selected patients given the morbidity associated with it, evidence for benefit is needed to justify its wider use.

Where Next? With the increase in the number of cases there is increasing awareness of the disease, leading to earlier diagnosis, and an expectation that something must be done. Survival is short and the treatments on offer are onerous. The only responsible approach from a scientific, compassionate, or economic view (and why not combine all three?) is to find evidence of effectiveness to avoid futile and distressing treatment when possible.