It seems like such a simple solution — giving the body’s own immune system the ammunition it needs to fight mesothelioma and other cancers. Although it’s not as simple as it sounds, there is much talk in the mesothelioma community about the great potential for immunotherapy in treating mesothelioma.
Several clinical trials have shown promise in using this type of treatment, and immunotherapy has already been approved by the FDA to treat some types of cancers, such as skin cancer and lung cancer. Although surgery, chemotherapy and radiation are still the primary treatment methods, immunotherapy for mesothelioma may be the next big breakthrough for hopeful patients.
How Does Immunotherapy Work?
Your immune system is a network of white blood cells, organs and tissues that work together to identify and attack dangerous cells and diseases that invade the body. However, mesothelioma cancer cells often go undetected by your immune system, which gives the cells free reign to invade the pleural tissue surrounding your lungs or the peritoneal tissue lining the abdominal cavity. Without interference from your immune system, the mesothelioma cancer cells can multiply, causing tumors.
Immunotherapy, also known as biologic therapy or biotherapy, aims to give your immune system a helping hand in fighting the cancer. As the National Cancer Institute explains, it does this by either:
- Stimulating specific components of the immune system to assist it in attacking the cancer cells.
- Counteracting signals produced by the cancer cells that help them hide from the immune system, allowing the body to recognize the cancer cells and attack them.
It is important to note that as you age, some parts of the immune system begin to slow down, leaving you more vulnerable to disease. Because mesothelioma can develop 15 to 60 years after a person has been exposed to asbestos, many mesothelioma patients are older and therefore their immune systems may not be as equipped to fight the disease. This is one of the reasons the prospect of using immunotherapy for mesothelioma gives patients in the community such hope for the future of this type of treatment.
Why Choose Immunotherapy for Mesothelioma Treatment?
Many mesothelioma patients play an active role in exploring all the treatment options available to them, from traditional treatments to clinical trials to holistic methods. There are several reasons patients may choose to try immunotherapy for mesothelioma treatment, including:
- Immunotherapy is a targeted cancer therapy, meaning it only targets the cancer cells or the cells of the immune system, as opposed to treatments such as traditional chemotherapy that may cause harm to other types of healthy cells in the body.
- When traditional treatments such as surgery, chemotherapy and radiation have been ineffective, an immunotherapy clinical trial may provide another treatment option for patients.
- Although immunotherapy does have side effects, it is considered a more gentle treatment for cancer than other traditional treatments that can be much harder on the body.