A Rare Disease
- Late rocker Warren Zevon, best known for his 1978 tune Werewolves of London, died 18 years ago today at 56 years old.
- Zevon went in to see a doctor after experiencing shortness of breath; It was mesothelioma, a rare type of lung cancer. He was given just a few months to live, but survived a year.
- Treatments for mesothelioma have been slow over the years, but fortunately there are now a few options for those facing the disease including the recent approval of Opdivo-Yervoy Drug Therapy, which combines two immunotherapy drugs Opdivo (nivolumab) and Yervoy (ipilimumab) to help destroy cancerous cells.
The singer-songwriter, also a former jingle-writer, had an imaginative sense of humor, and often incorporated offbeat lyrics and storytelling into his work, like the title track of one of his other classic hits, Lawyers, Guns, and Money.Read More
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In August 2002, Zevon went in to see his cardiologist after experiencing shortness of breath. It turned out to be cancer: Mesothelioma, a rare type of lung cancer. He was given just a few months to live, but fortunately survived another year. The Chicago-born musician—pals with artists like Jackson Browne and late legend Hunter S. Thompson—died in Los Angeles.
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Choosing not to undergo chemotherapy, Zevon spent his remaining time working on his final album, The Wind, an epitaph of sorts.
“If I can let someone know what I felt about them, that’s more important than passing off some bullshit insight I’ve had about living on the planet,” Zevon had told Rolling Stone about leaving messages in his songs to those he was leaving behind.
Zevon, who was the son of a Russian-Jewish father and Mormon mother, is survived by his kids, Jordan, now 52, and Ariel, 45, from two separate marriages.
What Causes Mesothelioma?
Although Zevon was a longtime smoker, leading experts actually say that the main cause of mesothelioma is asbestos, which is a naturally-occurring mineral used as an insulating material, which was more commonly used up until the ’70s when it was finally linked to cancer.
Dr. Joseph Friedberg, head of the Division of Thoracic Surgery at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, said mesothelioma’s survival rate is generally no longer than one to two years, and it is one of the deadliest cancers.
“The overwhelming majority of the time, [the cancer] is caused by asbestos,” Dr. Friedberg tells SurvivorNet, explaining that one of the main symptoms is shortness of breath. “Most often, they’ll get diagnosed as having a pneumonia or something else because someone listens to them, they have decreased breath sounds, they get treated. So because it’s such a rare cancer, it is often misdiagnosed for several months.”
New Treatment Options
Treatments for mesothelioma have been slow over the years, but now there are a few options for those facing the disease. In October 2020, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved a new first-line mesothelioma treatment called Opdivo-Yervoy Drug Therapy, which combines two immunotherapy drugs Opdivo (nivolumab) and Yervoy (ipilimumab) to help destroy cancerous cells. While evaluating results of this therapy, researchers found that these two drugs may be able to limit tumor growth by increasing the function of patients’ T-cells.
In a clinical trial, patients diagnosed with mesothelioma were divided into two groups where one set of patients received only chemotherapy while the others received the combination of drugs. According to results, patients who received by Opdivo and Yervoy survived an average of 18.1 months after diagnosis while the patients who received chemotherapy alone survived only 14.1 months.
In 2019, the FDA approved NovoCure’s NovoTTF-100L System, which is a wearable medical device about the size of a backpack that uses electric fields to disrupt solid tumor cancer cell division. This development marked the first treatment to be approved for mesothelioma in the last 15 years.
Before the NovoTTF-100L approval, the only FDA-approved therapy for patients with these types of mesothelioma was a combination of chemotherapy drugs called pemetrexed and cisplatin. The NovoCure system is also used in combination with chemotherapy. While testing this treatment, researchers found that the median survival rate for people treated with the new system plus chemotherapy was 18.2 months. However, it’s important to note that only 80 people participated in the trial.
“Typically, mesothelioma patients who cannot have surgery receive palliative care to mitigate their symptoms,” Mary Hesdorffer, former executive director of the Mesothelioma Applied Research Foundation, previously told SurvivorNet. “NovoTTF-100L provides unresectable (malignant pleural mesothelioma) patients with a treatment option that may improve survival. We are encouraged by the FDA approval and hope it is just the beginning of innovation in the treatment of this aggressive disease.”