Immunotherapy is a treatment that uses a cancer patient’s immune system to combat the spread of cancer. Immunotherapy regimens work in several different ways, including by stimulating the immune system to work harder or more efficiently as well as by supplementing a patient’s immune system with synthetic boosters for the immune system.
Malignant pleural mesothelioma is a dangerous and rare cancer with a latency period of decades. Over the years, mesothelioma, an asbestos-related cancer, has been difficult to treat.
When it is diagnosed, patients often have a life expectancy of 13-15 months. Additionally, chemotherapy regimens have had high relapse rates with more than 50% of patients experiencing a recurrence within 4-6 months of stopping chemotherapy.
Immunotherapy May Be An Effective Treatment for Mesothelioma
Because the cancer is so aggressive, researchers have been working furiously to identify ways to effectively combat mesothelioma. New developments in a French clinical trial have indicated that immunotherapy may slow the growth of cancer cells after chemotherapy treatment and the subsequent relapse.
Patients experiencing a relapse were given nivolumab (Opdivo) and ipilimumab (Yervoy), and in both cases 44% and 50% of patients experienced slowed cancerous cell growth.
Researchers noted that the study’s “findings suggest that immunotherapy may provide new hope to patients with relapsed mesothelioma.” “This randomized phase II trial may be enough to support the use of immune checkpoint inhibitors in this setting, but it is too early to conclude whether nivolumab alone or the combination of nivolumab and ipilimumab is better.”
125 Patients in a Multi-Center Clinical Mesothelioma Trial
The patients involved in the study were mesothelioma cancer victims with at least two prior courses of treatments, including standard chemotherapy regimens. Eighty percent of the participants were male, which is consistent with the rate at which men are diagnosed with mesothelioma.
Patients who received the immunotherapy drugs were able to extend the time before their cancer began to worsen. The side effects associated with the drugs were found to be very mild, including some thryroid issues, digestive inflammation and skin rashes. There were three reported cases of severe side effects leading to death.
Additional Immunotherapy Trials for Mesothelioma
Several other clinical trials are currently treating mesothelioma victims using various combinations of immunotherapy drugs. In several trials, the use of immunotherapy drugs as a first-line of defense is being investigated.
Overall, researchers hope to penetrate the protective shield that mesothelioma cells build to protect themselves from the human immune system. Immunotherapy regimens that can combat this protective shield while stimulating the natural immune system hold a lot of promise.
On June 5th 2017, the promising developments in this study will be reported at the annual meeting for the American Society of Clinical Oncology.