Should Women with Mesothelioma Reconsider Immunotherapy Treatment?

For patients diagnosed with malignant mesothelioma, immunotherapy represents an exciting and promising treatment option. But a new study published in the December 2nd issue of JAMA Network Open is questioning whether women with various types cancer respond differently to the protocol. The study followed male and female advanced melanoma patients treated with the same combination of checkpoint inhibitors. It revealed that the women in the group experienced substantially different side effects and were twice as likely to die.

Immunotherapy Checkpoint Inhibitors Considered Promising Treatment for Mesothelioma 

Checkpoint inhibitors are one of the most promising protocols being explored for use in the treatment of mesothelioma. Immune checkpoints control the activity of the body’s immune response, and when they are stimulated they prevent the body from attacking malignant tumors. The inhibitors target these checkpoints and have proven particularly effective when two different inhibitors are administered in combination.

Many drugs that are used successfully in advanced melanoma have also proven useful in the treatment of malignant mesothelioma, so the study conducted by researchers from the Sidney Kimmel Cancer Center – Jefferson Health is attracting a lot of attention from those who treat patients with the rare, asbestos-related disease. According to senior author Grace Lu-Yao, MPH associate director for Population Science and vice chair and professor in the Department of Medical Oncology, “This is the first large population-based study that demonstrates a significant difference in outcomes for women treated with two checkpoint inhibitors at the same time. 

Are women more likely to die because the therapy isn’t working, or because of side effects? We don’t know yet, but this is a powerful signal in real-world data that we need to investigate further.”

Mesothelioma Doctors View Gender Research with Interest

Though the Jefferson team’s results showed no difference between male and female patients treated with a single checkpoint inhibitor, the stark difference among those treated with a combination of nivolumab and ipilumab is drawing significant attention from physicians who treat mesothelioma patients. Using data extracted from the SEER (Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results) database, they reviewed records from 1,369 patients treated between 1991 and 2015 and found that among combination-treated patients the risk of death was 2.06 times higher for women than for men, jumping from 40% for men to 65% for women. 

In discussing the results, Dr. Lu-Yao said, “This data is a wake-up call based on the experience of hundreds of patients on these drugs. This real-world data demonstrates that the results derived from men might not be applicable to women and it is critical to design studies with sufficient power to evaluate treatment effectiveness by sex.” Her team now plans to research whether the same differential is present in other types of cancers, including mesothelioma.

If you or someone you love has been diagnosed with malignant mesothelioma, the more information you have, the better the decisions you can make. For help accessing valuable resources, contact the Patient Advocates at today at 1-800-692-8608.

Terri Heimann Oppenheimer

Terri Oppenheimer

Terri Heimann Oppenheimer is the head writer of our news blog. She graduated from the College of William and Mary with a degree in English. Terri believes that knowledge is power and she is committed to sharing news about the impact of mesothelioma, the latest research and medical breakthroughs, and victims’ stories.

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