Immunotherapy is the use of drugs to stimulate a person’s own immune system so it can better recognize and destroy cancer cells. Evidence has suggested that a body’s immune system may be able to block the spread of cancer as well as slow down tumor growth. Immunotherapy aims to develop an immune reaction to tumors and may be effective in combating mesothelioma.
An important part of the immune system is its ability to keep itself from attacking normal cells in the body. To do this, it uses “checkpoints,” which are proteins on immune cells that need to be turned on (or off) to start an immune response. Cancer cells sometimes use these checkpoints to keep from being attacked by the immune system.
The body’s internal army that fights against the foreign invaders is spearheaded by the white blood cell, or lymphocyte. The lymphocytes search for the invader, and once identified, unleash little sharpshooters called T cells or B cells. The T cells are generated in the body’s thymus gland high in the chest. The thymus gland is like a munitions dump.
The Killer T cells, once unleashed and after locking onto their enemy target, destroy the invader directly.
Another weapon in the T Cell arsenal is the lymphokine-producing T cell. It releases a protein called a lymphokine, which includes interferons and interleukin -2. These proteins speed up and bolster the immune system’s force field against foreign attack.
The strategy is to create an “immune response” against the cancer cell. Each cell in your body has an identical copy of your unique DNA code. The DNA molecule is like your own personal identity card, which screens all sister and brother cells to see if they belong. Cells that do not contain your unique DNA code are redlined as invaders. The surfaces of these invader cells are studded with molecules called “antigens”. The scientists in the lab coats try to develop vaccines or antibodies that are programmed to recognize and defend against certain antigens.
Biological therapies include interferons, interleukins, tumor necrosis factors, monoclonal antibodies and cancer vaccines. These may prove beneficial when used in combination with each other and/or with conventional treatments.
Like other forms of treatment, immunotherapies can cause serious side effects. They are normally administered by injection, which may engender swelling and rashes at the site of the shot. Interferons and interleukins can cause flu- like symptoms. They may affect blood pressure. Most trials require the patient’s doctor to obtain the immunotherapy agent and inject same in the doctor’s office.
Larger clinical trials with more mesothelioma patients will offer a better look at how well immunotherapy works and what side effects it can cause.
Other drugs are being studied for mesothelioma:
- Atezolizumab (Tecentriq)
- Nivolumab (Opdivo)
- Pembrolizumab (Keytruda)
You can learn more about a particular therapy and the logistics by calling the National Cancer Institute’s toll free number at 1-800-422-6237.
Of course, you want an honest and qualified assessment of your best options for long-term survival of MPM. Who is qualified to answer your questions?
The Pacific Meso Center:
Can answer all your questions.
Will make you aware of all your choices.
Will help explore your treatment options and assist you in finding the best treatment ‘Team’ for you.