In the last few years, researchers have made significant strides in the treatment of malignant mesothelioma. Though the disease is still considered fatal, the introduction of immunotherapy and other innovations have extended survival time for many, and improved quality of life. But much more needs to be learned and improved upon: a recent study shows that the patients who experienced the most serious adverse impact from nivolumab have the best overall responses to the drug, suggesting that doctors need to be ready to manage those negative effects.
Immunotherapy Offers Temporary Answer for Mesothelioma
Faced with the grim reality of a terminal diagnosis, mesothelioma patients have been heartened by the news that immunotherapy treatments can extend median progression-free survival and overall survival. Drugs like nivolumab, which was recently approved by the Food and Drug Administration in combination with Yervoy, block the protein that protects the rare form of cancer from protecting itself.
When mesothelioma researchers determined that the asbestos-related cancer expresses high levels of the protein PD-L1, they tested the use of nivolumab. They found that the patients who had the highest levels of the protein had very good responses to the drug, while those with normal levels had very little response. But they also found that those with the highest PD-L1 levels suffered the most significant serious side effects while the medicine was doing its job.
Side Effects Suffered by Mesothelioma Patients Treated with Nivolumab
The mesothelioma patients with the highest levels of PD-L1 benefited the most from the nivolumab treatment while suffering from muscle pain, fatigue, vomiting, pneumonia, low white blood cell count, and irregular heartbeat. But along with those discomforts, their median progression-free survival extended to 13.6 months, while those who were more comfortable and who had minimal responses to the drug had a median progression-free survival of just 3.8 months.
In assessing these findings, the researchers from Tokushima University suggested that physicians take steps to manage adverse effects. Writing in the journal BMC Pulmonary Medicine, they wrote “Because the presence of immune-related adverse events (irAEs) may be associated with a favorable clinical outcome, early detection and appropriate management irAEs will increase the therapeutic benefits to patients.”
If you or someone you love has been diagnosed with malignant mesothelioma, it is important that you have the most up-to-date information on treatment options. For help, contact the Patient Advocates at Mesothelioma.net today at 1-800-692-8608.FREE Mesothelioma Packet