Immunotherapy for pleural mesothelioma
This is a type of drug treatment that uses the body’s own immune system to fight cancer.
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Immunotherapy drugs known as checkpoint inhibitors block proteins that stop immune cells from recognising and destroying the cancer cells. Once the proteins are blocked, the immune cells can potentially recognise and attack the cancer.
Immunotherapy is a relatively new treatment for mesothelioma. However, it is now commonly used for most people who are fit enough to have any type of treatment. It may not be used upfront if you are having trimodality treatment. Your medical oncologist will discuss whether immunotherapy is suitable for you.
In NSW, some people may be able to get help paying for immunotherapy through icare (Dust Diseases Care).
For more on this, see our general section on Immunotherapy.
The drugs used are ipilimumab and nivolumab in combination. Immunotherapy drugs are usually given through a vein (intravenously) in hospital and can take between 30 and 90 minutes. You will usually wait a short time to be monitored for any reaction before going home. Immunotherapy may be used alone or with chemotherapy.
Side effects of immunotherapy
The side effects of immunotherapy drugs are different to those from chemotherapy. Immunotherapy can cause inflammation throughout the body, which may lead to different side effects depending on which part of the body is inflamed.
The combination of immunotherapy drugs may increase the risk of side effects, which include fatigue, rash, painful joints and diarrhoea. Most people have mild side effects that are easily treated and usual improve. More serious side effects may include heart and thyroid problems, but your doctor should discuss any concerns with you.
It’s important to let someone on your medical team know if you have any new or worsening symptoms, rather than just put up with them – even if they happen weeks or months after you had immunotherapy treatment. This is because if left untreated, some side effects can become serious and may even be life-threatening. For a detailed list of side effects, visit eviq.org.au.
Podcast: New Treatments – Immunotherapy & Targeted Therapy
Dr Anthony Linton, Medical Oncologist, Concord Cancer Centre and Concord Repatriation General Hospital, NSW; Dr Naveed Alam, Thoracic Surgeon, St Vincent’s Hospital Melbourne and Monash Medical Centre, VIC; Donatella Arnoldo, Consumer; Polly Baldwin, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council SA; Dr Melvin (Wee Loong) Chin, Medical Oncologist, Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital and National Centre for Asbestos Related Diseases, WA; Prof Kwun Fong, Thoracic and Sleep Physician and Director, UQ Thoracic Research Centre, The Prince Charles Hospital, and Professor of Medicine, The University of Queensland, QLD; Vicki Hamilton OAM, Consumer and CEO, Asbestos Council of Victoria/GARDS Inc., VIC; Dr Susan Harden, Radiation Oncologist, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, VIC; Penny Jacomos, Social Worker, Asbestos Diseases Society of South Australia, SA; Prof Brian Le, Director, Parkville Integrated Palliative Care Service, The Royal Melbourne Hospital and Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, VIC; Lung Cancer Support Nurses, Lung Foundation Australia; Jocelyn McLean, Mesothelioma Support Coordinator, Asbestos Diseases Research Institute, NSW; Prof David Morris, Peritonectomy Surgeon, St George Hospital and UNSW, NSW; Joanne Oates, Registered Occupational Therapist, Expert Witness in Dust Diseases, and Director, Evaluate, NSW; Chris Sheppard and Adam Barlow, RMB Lawyers.
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