Dr. Joseph S. Friedberg is a well-known thoracic surgeon who works at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. He relates how he used to feel helpless and eventually got tired of seeing patients of mesothelioma die even after undergoing extra pleural pneumonectomy treatment. Extra pleural pneumonectomy is a taxing procedure where the entire affected lung is removed by surgery. Even after receiving this treatment patients would die within months.
This is when Dr. Joseph S. Friedberg along with his team decided that they need to try another process. Hence they decided to experiment with a new procedure whereby instead of removing the whole lung, they stripped the lung of the tumor that it had and then hit the remaining malignant cells with photodynamic therapy. Dr. Friedberg and his team’s study has finally been published in The Annals of Thoracic Surgery after once being rejected as reviewers thought that the follow-up time was very short and according to them the authors were overestimating the survival time that was projected.
According to Dr. Friedberg the results that they observed were not earth-shattering, but they did have success in terms of getting dozens of malignant mesothelioma patients some extra months and in some cases even years of precious life. This procedure also gave the patients the ability to better fight the cancer in the case that it recurred.
Putting numbers to the results, an article in the Philadelphia Inquirer stated that 27 of a total of 38 patients that had received the treatment introduced by Dr. Friedberg are still alive two years after treatment.
After his study was rejected for publication the first time, Dr. Friedberg did not give up, instead he gave it the old college try and performed the procedure on patients of mesothelioma that were deemed to be more seriously ill than the patients he had administered the treatment to before. The results were consistent and impressive when compared with the survival rates of patients who had undergone more conventional treatments such as chemotherapy and radiation therapy. The most effective chemotherapy treatment for mesothelioma extends life only for an average of about 3 to 12 months.
According to Dr. Friedberg, it is the light therapy which is used after removal of the tumor that plays the major role and helps in extending the lives of patients with mesothelioma. It is the good doctor’s belief that the light therapy “primes the immune system” and eventually helps the immune system in keeping any recurring cancer under control. According to him, “The cancer comes back more like a house cat than a tiger.”
It is clear that this new treatment doesn’t claim to completely eliminate mesothelioma; at least not yet as complications are still possible and the cancer that recurs may win in the end. However, the survival duration is encouraging (at 31.7 months) even when the cancer recurred in a median time of 9.6 months.
“I’d be happy to turn this into a chronic disease, like diabetes,” Friedberg says. “My goal for my career is to make it truly better for these patients. That’s what I want to do for the rest of my life.”