For oncologists, mesothelioma can be one of the most frustrating cancers. It’s easy to understand why. Often, because of its long latency period, the disease is not detected until it has reached Stages 3 or 4. That means the cancer is already quite advanced and has usually spread to other parts of the body, making treatment quite tricky.
Quite honestly, treatments – including chemo and radiation – often do little to halt the growth of mesothelioma tumors and may only be used for palliative reasons. Doctors who treat mesothelioma regularly know that the prognosis isn’t good for their patients; a large percentage of mesothelioma victims die within a year of diagnosis.
That’s not to say, however, that there isn’t something better on the horizon. And right now, that something better just might be immunotherapy.
What is Immunotherapy?
According to the American Cancer Society, immunotherapy is “treatment that uses certain parts of a person’s immune system to fight diseases such as cancer.” This can be done by “stimulating your own immune system to work harder or smarter to attack cancer cells or giving you immune system components, such as man-made immune system proteins.”
Experiments with immunotherapy have been conducted for more than a century but it’s only been in the last decade or so that many strides have been made with this kind of cancer treatment. Many oncologists see it as a bright spot on the horizon, even in the treatment of mesothelioma, which has traditionally responded little to any type of conventional treatment.
Mesothelioma and Immunotherapy
Studies using a cancer immunotherapy drug known as pembrolizumab, something researchers call a PD-1 inhibitor, show much promise in regards to the shrinking of tumors associated with mesothelioma. As a matter of fact, results released in April 2015 from a study conducted at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia show that the drug either shrank or halted the growth of tumors in about 76 percent of pleural mesothelioma patients who participated in the trial.
“The 76 percent disease control rate in this set of patients previously treated for malignant pleural mesothelioma is very promising and represents a signal of efficacy in the treatment of this disease,” said Evan W. Alley, MD, PhD and head of Penn Medicine’s Mesothelioma and Pleural Program. “Our team was also gratified that none of our patients had unexpected side effects, there were no patient deaths related to the treatment, and we managed all adverse events without discontinuing treatment.”
Alley and his colleagues, including doctors from the UK, indicate that trials will be ongoing with this and other immunotherapy drugs.
Getting the Latest in Treatment
If you or a loved one has been the victim of mesothelioma, getting the best treatment as soon as possible is paramount. You’ll want to research the top hospitals where the best comprehensive work with the disease is being carried out, such as the above-mentioned University of Pennsylvania Hospital.
Take time to locate the doctors that are the most well-versed in the treatment of the disease and look for facilities that might be conducting clinical trials with pembrolizumab or other similar immunotherapy drugs. It might mean leaving your home base for treatment but – in the long run – the extra time and expense may be worth it.
Remember, you may be eligible for compensation for treatment, travel, and the host of other expenses associated with a mesothelioma diagnosis. Check with an experienced attorney for details on obtaining funds that would assist you with these costs.