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Immunotherapy for Pleural Mesothelioma

Immunotherapy is the artificial stimulation of the body's immune system to treat cancer, improving the system's natural ability to fight cancer. Many experts and researchers believe that immunotherapy is the future of mesothelioma treatment.

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What is Immunotherapy?

Immunotherapy is an experimental treatment for pleural mesothelioma. Many different types of drugs are being studied, but they all work by improving immune system function.

Immunotherapy generally causes fewer and less severe side effects than surgery and chemotherapy, making it one of the most promising treatments being studied on pleural mesothelioma.

Results from clinical trials suggest that immune checkpoint inhibitors such as Keytruda, Opdivo (nivolumab) and Yervoy (ipilimumab) show the most promising results in pleural patients.

Immunotherapy does not offer a cure for mesothelioma, but it combines well with other therapies to manage pleural mesothelioma better as a chronic disease.

Types of Immunotherapy

The types of immunotherapy recently studied for pleural mesothelioma include cancer vaccines, immune checkpoint inhibitors, monoclonal antibodies and adoptive cell transfer.

Other types of immunotherapies studied on pleural patients in the past include cytokines — such as interleukin-2 — and Bacillus Calmette-Guerin, a bacterial immunotherapy.

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Cancer Vaccines

Cancer vaccines help the immune system locate and kill cancer cells. Several vaccines are in development to prevent and treat pleural mesothelioma.

The Society for Immunotherapy of Cancer explains how immunotherapy uses the body’s immune system to fight cancer.

Immune Checkpoint Inhibitors

Immune checkpoint inhibitors help the immune system identify and attack cancerous cells. Several inhibitors are in development for pleural mesothelioma:

Clinical trials are combining these drugs with each other and with chemotherapy drugs. While no immune checkpoint inhibitor has been proven to cure pleural mesothelioma, they have helped many patients live longer with the cancer.

Monoclonal Antibodies

Monoclonal antibody therapy activates cancer-killing pathways in the immune system. A few monoclonal antibodies have been tested on pleural mesothelioma patients.

Adoptive Cell Transfer

Adoptive cell transfer uses live immune cells to boost the immune system. A patient’s immune cells are extracted from a blood sample and multiplied or modified in a lab. Then the cells are transferred back into the patient, this time in much higher quantity to give the immune system a natural boost.

Side Effects of Immunotherapy

The side effects of immunotherapy on pleural mesothelioma patients include:

Patients who experience shortness of breath, yellowing of skin, blood in stool or urine, severe headache or vision problems should consult their oncologist immediately.

Future of Immunotherapy for Mesothelioma

Immunotherapy will soon become part of standard care for pleural mesothelioma rather than an experimental therapy. The extensive research underway now will eventually lead to effective immunotherapies approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Immune checkpoint inhibitors are currently producing the best survival rates among pleural patients. Other types of immunotherapy are showing promise as well, especially when combined with other therapies.

Pleural patients with specific qualifications can access these therapies with the help of their oncologist.

The future of pleural mesothelioma treatment will involve immunotherapy and likely several different types to control mesothelioma in diverse ways.


Snehal Smart, M.D.

Snehal Smart, M.D.

Snehal Smart is the Pleural Mesothelioma Center’s in-house medical doctor, serving as both an experienced Patient Advocate and an expert medical writer for the website. When she is not providing one-on-one assistance to patients, Dr. Snehal stays current on the latest medical research, reading peer-reviewed studies and interviewing oncologists to learn about advancements in diagnostic tools and cancer treatments.

Medically Reviewed By Dr. Joanne Getsy
Last Modified March 20, 2019

18 Cited Article Sources

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