Mesothelioma is a rare and deadly type of cancer with a very poor prognosis. Available treatment options such as surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy are often less effective as the disease is usually diagnosed after it has progressed.
Ongoing research and clinical trials have recently discovered a number of treatments with promising results. One of these treatments is Immunotherapy, also known as Biological Therapy.
Since standard treatments have shown limited efficacy, mesothelioma researchers suggest that a patient’s immune system may respond well to immunotherapy under certain circumstances. Actually, various studies have demonstrated the immunoreactivity of mesothelioma to different immunotherapies.
Immunotherapy is a cancer treatment available to people with mesothelioma only through clinical trials.
Immunotherapy treatment approach uses specific drugs that stimulate the patient’s immune system to kill mesothelioma cells. In other words, it enhances the immune system’s response to mesothelioma cancer.
Although this treatment has not been able to provide a cure for mesothelioma, doctors hope to use immunotherapy as a part of a multimodal treatment plan to help manage mesothelioma.
How Does Immunotherapy Work?
To understand how this mesothelioma treatment approach works, first, you need to learn the basics of the immune system.
The immune system is designed to protect the body from foreign pathogens such as bacteria and viruses, from disease development, and also eliminates damaged or dead cells. It has the ability to recognize both internal and external causes of illness, and this includes cancerous cells.
The immune system will try and fight cancerous cells in the body since it recognizes them as foreign.
Now in the case of mesothelioma, the immune system attacks the cancerous cells in attempt to kill them. However, mesothelioma tumors tend to grow quickly and metastasize rapidly. As a result, the immune system becomes overwhelmed and therefore fails to win the battle. As the cancer progresses, it becomes practically impossible for the immune system to fight it.
What immunotherapy does is boosting the patient’s immune system by use of specific drugs, thereby making it strong enough to effectively target mesothelioma cells.
Researchers sometimes refer to immunotherapy as a “targeted treatment” since it specifically targets the cancerous cells of mesothelioma.
Who Can Benefit from Immunotherapy?
Patients with advanced mesothelioma that has not responded to standard treatments such as chemotherapy and radiation therapy may largely benefit from immunotherapy mostly because it has shown some promising results, is safe, and does not cause intensive side-effects.
When traditional treatments such as surgery, chemotherapy and radiation have been ineffective, an immunotherapy clinical trial may provide another treatment option for patients.
Mechanisms Used in Immunotherapy
Researchers use two main approaches when developing an immunotherapy treatment. One of them is Active Immunotherapy. Active immunotherapy works by actively stimulating the immune system to attack the cancerous cells. Special immune-triggers/antigens are injected into the patient’s body to activate the immune system to fight the cancerous cells.
Passive immunotherapy on the other hand uses special compounds created in the lab and are used to attack mesothelioma cells directly. This approach has a passive effect on the strength of the immune system.
The Different Types of Immunotherapy
A number of immunotherapies are currently being researched and tested in clinical trials. Doctors are hopeful that these treatments will extend the lifespan of mesothelioma patients and improve their life quality.
The main immunotherapy treatments include;
- Immune Checkpoint Inhibitors which work by blocking the signaling molecules on the cancerous cells.
- Monoclonal Antibodies which are designed to target specific antigens on mesothelioma tumors.
- Adoptive T Cell Transfer which are modified by researchers to boost their strength. The treatment also involves blocking mesothelin (a protein) to help shrink mesothelioma tumors, slow down or stop metastasis, and extend the life expectancy of the patients.
- Therapeutic Cancer Vaccines where researchers use this immunotherapy approach to carry modified mesothelioma antigens into the patient’s body using a bacteria or virus. The immune system recognizes the modified mesothelioma antigens as a signal for mesothelioma and is thereby stimulated to attack any mesothelioma cell carrying the antigen. It’s a promising cancer vaccine that might provide a breakthrough for mesothelioma treatment in future.
The Future of Immunotherapy for Mesothelioma
The future of immunotherapy for mesothelioma is bright. Doctors strongly believe that this treatment may become effective for mesothelioma in the near future. Furthermore, researchers have recently discovered a link between penetrating lymphocytes and longer mesothelioma prognosis.
Researchers also hope that preventative immunotherapy strategies may be of great help to people exposed to asbestos, although identifying specific individuals who would benefit has proven to be challenging.
All the same, with advanced technology, immunotherapy may become a dream come true in the near future. It could help doctors get rid of this menace once and for all.