Immunotherapy is an emerging treatment option for malignant pleural mesothelioma. As a novel therapy, this treatment may serve as an alternative to traditional therapies for some individuals. It works by stimulating the immune system to target and kill cancer cells.

Experimental Treatment

Immunotherapy is still considered an experimental treatment for mesothelioma. Individuals with certain genetic susceptibilities to developing cancer are more likely to benefit from immunotherapy and can be tested for these genes to guide their treatment. Individuals who have tried and failed chemotherapy are also encouraged to consider immunotherapy. 

Fighting the Disease by Strengthening the Immune System

How does immunotherapy work? 

Immunotherapy comes in several forms: 

  • Removal, modification and replacement of a person’s immune cells
  • Vaccines
  • Cancer-killing viruses
  • Drugs known as immunomodulators and monoclonal antibodies 

The patient takes one or more of these therapies to help produce and activate cancer-fighting cells to identify and kill cancer cells.  

Researchers are still determining how effective immunotherapy is in treating mesothelioma. However, immunotherapy is effective in treating many other types of cancer, such as

  • Bladder cancer
  • Blood cancer
  • Brain cancer
  • Breast cancer
  • Cervical cancer
  • Head and neck cancer
  • Kidney cancer
  • Liver cancer
  • Lymphatic cancer
  • Other types of lung cancer
  • Ovarian cancer
  • Prostate cancer
  • Skin cancer 

These promising results support further study of immunotherapy and its potential to treat mesothelioma.  

Immunotherapy Drugs for Mesothelioma

Researchers have studied several immunotherapy drugs in the treatment of mesothelioma, but the most promising ones are 

  • Keytruda
  • Opdivo
  • Yervoy

The National Comprehensive Cancer Network Guidelines support Keytruda alone or in combination with Opdivo and Yervoy for individuals who have tried and failed chemotherapy.1 The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approves Opdivo and Yervoy combination treatment for unresectable mesothelioma.2 These drugs are not a cure, but they can help some individuals with mesothelioma live several months longer. 

Targeted Therapy

Immunotherapy is a form of targeted treatment; it only targets cancerous cells so as to eliminate them from the body, giving the recipient a higher chance of survival. As it only kills malignant cells, the individual’s healthy cells do not suffer as much from this form of treatment. 

The power of immunotherapy is that it uses the body’s natural healing ability to fight disease. Another advantage of immunotherapy is that it usually does not have as many or as severe side effects as other cancer therapies. 

The Future of Immunotherapy

From its discovery in 1891 to its revival in the 1970s and rise to prominence in the 1990s through the present day, immunotherapy remains a promising treatment option.3 Today, it is used to treat not just cancer but also autoimmune disease, infectious disease, and even allergies. With more research, immunotherapy could prove to be as effective in treating malignant pleural mesothelioma as it is in treating other kinds of malignant disease.