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Immunotherapy drug may help treat relapsed mesothelioma

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Malignant pleural mesothelioma (MPM) is a rare and aggressive form of cancer that is caused by asbestos exposure. Chemotherapy is usually administered to patients, but nearly all will relapse - most within six months following treatment.

A promising new treatment for patients who have relapsed involves the use of immunotherapy.

A clinical trial involving 125 patients with advanced MPM was conducted in France. Patients were randomly assigned to one of two treatments:

  • Nivolumab (standard cancer treatment drug)
  • Nivolumab + ipilimumab (standard cancer treatment drug + immunology treatment)

Trial Results

The disease control rate was analyzed, which is the percentage of patients in which cancer did not grow.

First 108 patients:

  • Nivolumab only:
    • 44 percent disease control rate
    • 17 percent tumor shrinkage rate
  • Nivolumab + ipilimumab:
    • 50 percent disease control rate
    • 26 percent tumor shrinkage rate

Follow-up at 10.4 months including all 125 patients:

  • Nivolumab only:
    • 4 months until cancer worsened
    • 10.4 month overall median survival
  • Nivolumab + ipilimumab:
    • 5.6 months until cancer worsened
    • Overall median survival not reached (more than 50 percent of patients were still living at time of analysis!)

Side Effects

It is worth noting that severe side effects were more common among those patients who were administered nivolumab with ipilimumab:

  • Nivolumab only:
    • 10 percent experienced side effects
  • Nivolumab + ipilimumab:
    • 18 percent experienced side effects

Going Forward

What does this mean for patients with mesothelioma?

Immunotherapy shows encouraging disease control rate results in the treatment of MPM after relapse. This is positive news in the treatment of a disease that is notoriously hard to treat.

Although more research is needed to fully understand how immunotherapy can be used to treat mesothelioma, this is definitely an encouraging development for those fighting the disease, and is worth discussing with your doctors.

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