Surgery, radiation, chemotherapy – those are the standard treatments for mesothelioma, the aggressive cancer that attacks the lining of the lungs and other internal spaces in the body. A Mayo Clinic thoracic surgeon and researcher is taking another approach: Shanda Blackmon, M.D. is trying to freeze out mesothelioma.
She is only beginning the clinical trial, but she calls it a “kinder, gentler” way to mimic an immune response compared to radiation used in previous studies elsewhere. The hope is that by introducing liquid nitrogen into the pleural cavity, the freezing will jolt the body into launching a T-cell war against the cancer cells.
Liquid nitrogen becomes gaseous when exposed to heat and vaporizes once sprayed into the cavity. Two surgeons must perform the procedure: one to introduce the spray through a laparoscopic incision and the other to monitor the internal pressure, allowing excess gas to escape through a second incision for safety.
Dr. Blackmon emphasizes that the effort underway is exploratory — an attempt to determine how and to what extent the immune system can be stimulated. The first patient in the trial had her tumor surgically removed after the liquid nitrogen treatment.
Because the condition is usually discovered and diagnosed after it is advanced, full recovery for most is problematic. Only about ten percent of patients survive more than five years after diagnosis.