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What are Tumor Treating Fields?

Doctors often misread the signs of mesothelioma until it’s too late. The disease often takes a long time to manifest, and doctors can interpret its early symptoms as the signs of other, more common problems. By the time doctors recognize mesothelioma for what it truly is, it’s often too late for surgery.

This means that most people diagnosed with mesothelioma receive treatments designed to reduce their symptoms and improve their quality of life. However, the FDA recently approved a new treatment for pleural mesothelioma that may extend victims’ survival rates. This was the first new treatment approved in 15 years, and it uses a technology known as Tumor Treating Fields (TTF).

Disrupting cell division to slow the growth of tumors

The FDA approved the NovoTTF-100L System for use in combination with a standard two-drug chemotherapy. Designed to help people whose pleural mesothelioma tumors cannot be removed by surgery, the device transmits electrical fields through your body by way of transducer arrays fastened to your chest and back or under your arms. The electrical fields prevent cancer cells from dividing so that the tumors don’t grow larger.

The early results are positive

The FDA granted its approval based on the results of a single-arm study the manufacturer conducted. This study found that people who used the TTF along with their chemotherapy survived an average of 6 months longer than those who used the standard treatment. Sixty-two percent of the patients in the study survived through the end of the first year, and 42% survived through the end of the second year. Additionally, the patients who had a follow-up CT scan saw a 97% rate for disease control.

The device isnt for everyone

The FDA and the manufacturer both clearly insisted the TTF device wasn’t for everyone. Patients need to wear transducer arrays as often as possible for a period of four weeks, and those arrays send electrical fields coursing through the body. This makes the device a bad fit for two types of people:

  • Anyone with an implanted electronic medical device, like a pacemaker
  • Anyone with a sensitivity to the conductive hydrogels applied to the skin and transducer array

The study also noted that 66% of the patients who used the device suffered from skin reactions. Most of these were mild rashes, but 5% of the patients suffered severe reactions that interrupted with their treatment.

Take the news with a grain of salt

The early findings are positive and may represent a significant breakthrough in the treatment of pleural mesothelioma, but they come without a control arm to the study. As the writers at MedTech Dive note, the results of studies conducted without control arms may appear more impressive than they really are.

Best to get diagnosed early

As much as it offers a new hope for those suffering from pleural mesothelioma, the FDA’s approval of the NovoTTF-100L System reinforces the value of an early diagnosis. Neither the FDA or the device’s manufacturer currently view TTF as a potential cure. Doctors can sometimes pursue more aggressive treatments for people who receive earlier diagnoses, but it’s notoriously difficult to recognize pleural mesothelioma early on. One key is to tell your doctor if you worked around asbestos or were otherwise exposed to it.

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