The Promise of Immunotherapy for Mesothelioma Patients

Immunotherapy for Mesothelioma is an aggressive cancer with few treatment options to extend life or improve quality of life. While surgical removal, radiation therapy, and chemotherapy can all be used to treat mesothelioma, the disease often returns in spite of these treatments or spreads to other parts of the body, leading to death from this deadly form of cancer within months or years of diagnosis. Immunotherapy treatment for mesothelioma holds great promise for significantly increasing the number of patients who survive this disease.

What Is Immunotherapy?
Immunotherapy is a new and promising treatment for cancer patients. It’s different from chemotherapy because it does not attack the cancer cells directly. Instead, it trains the patient’s immune system to identify the cancer cells as invaders and destroy them before they can grow into tumors. Studies show that immunotherapy increases survival rates by more than 50%. These treatments are often given after other treatments have been tried without success. The first immunotherapy drug approved in the U.S., Yervoy (ipilimumab), was approved in 2011, and was followed by others like Opdivo (nivolumab) in 2014 and Keytruda (pembrolizumab) in 2015. The most successful form of immunotherapy thus far has been checkpoint inhibitors which use special molecules on T-cells to block one or more checkpoints that would normally stop T-cells from attacking cancer cells.

How Does It Work?
Immunotherapy is a type of treatment that is used to stimulate the immune system to fight cancer. The therapy has been shown to be successful in fighting mesothelioma, but it does not work for everyone. It can take up to a year before you can see the effects and progress, so it’s important that patients have patience with their treatment.
It’s also important for people who are interested in immunotherapy to do research before they make any decisions about how they want their treatment to go.

Are There Any Side Effects?
Side effects are possible, but they are usually not serious and can be managed with drugs. Some side effects include:
-Nausea, vomiting and diarrhea
-Headaches, dizziness, fatigue and flu-like symptoms
-Numbness in the hands or feet -Shortness of breath and chest pain
-Fever, chills, night sweats, coughs and runny nose
-An increased risk of infections (particularly infections affecting the lungs)

Advantages and Disadvantages
Immunotherapy is the newest and most promising form of treatment for mesothelioma. It has been shown to be effective in treating some types of cancer, including melanoma and lung cancer. The treatment involves using a patient’s own immune system to fight the tumor by boosting their white blood cells’ anti-cancer function. This process can also cause temporary side effects such as fever, chills, loss of appetite, joint pain and muscle aches. There are currently three FDA-approved immunotherapy treatments for malignant pleural mesothelioma: pembrolimus (brand name: Flector), nivolumab (brand name: Opdivo) and ipilimumab (brand name: Yervoy). More research needs to be done to determine which patients will respond best to these therapies.

Routine Checkups Are Still Necessary
For now, your doctor will want to know about any changes or new symptoms that you have, and will continue to monitor your body for other signs of cancer. In the future, immunotherapy may be able to prevent mesothelioma from coming back at all. But it is not yet a cure. For some patients, their first treatment works well enough that they only need one dose. But some patients need more treatments before the immune system kills off their tumor completely. Some patients never achieve remission after receiving therapy with pembrolizumab (Keytruda), and in those cases, surgery or another type of treatment are needed.

Mesothelioma is a disease that has been notoriously difficult to treat. While there are some new therapies coming down the pipeline, immunotherapy for mesothelioma treatments remain promising.
Immunotherapy typically works by boosting the body’s immune system and making it more equipped to fight cancerous cells. It can be administered as a pill or injection and, in some cases, patients only need one treatment to see relief from their symptoms.

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