Also known as biotherapy, immunotherapy is exactly what its name infers; that is, treatment that uses parts of the immune system to fight diseases such as cancer. Today, new advances in immunotherapy have proven useful in the treatment of a number of different cancers, though immunotherapy still plays a fairly minimal role in cancer treatment. For mesothelioma patients, it is only an option in clinical trials.
If used in conjunction with other conventional treatments such as surgery and chemotherapy, immunotherapy can relieve symptoms and improve survival rates.
Types of Immunotherapy
Mesothelioma immunotherapy treatments are still in the clinical trial phase and generally involve monoclonal antibodies made in a lab. This passive form of immunotherapy allows these man-made antibodies to recruit other parts of the immune system to join them in the fight against mesothelioma cells.
To date, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved a number of monoclonal antibodies to treat particular cancers, including the drug Avastin® for mesothelioma. Avastin may be added to standard chemotherapy in hopes of extending the patient’s life expectancy. Most of the immunotherapies in use today are known as targeted immunotherapies – they target one specific kind of cell or antigen rather than stimulating the whole immune system. There are two main types:
Immunotherapy takes on two different forms. In passive immunotherapy, patients can be given man-made immune system proteins that the body is lacking.
In active immunotherapy, patients can be given drugs to stimulate their existing immune system to work smarter and harder.
Experimental Cancer Vaccines
Cancer vaccines also constitute a form of immunotherapy. These are still mostly experimental at this time and not a lot of progress has been made in this field during the last several years. Cancer vaccines are designed to work much the same way as any other vaccine; they use weakened viruses to start an immune reaction inside the body. However, unlike the vaccines a baby or small child might receive, cancer vaccines don’t prevent cancer. They try to entice a person’s immune system to attack an already present disease. None of these vaccines have yet to be approved by the FDA though scientists are indeed studying what effects they may have on lung cancers, including mesothelioma.