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Immunotherapy may offer hope for those with mesothelioma

Mesothelioma is a type of cancer that typically develops as a result of asbestos exposure. It occurs in the tissue that covers most internal organs. Because of the aggressive nature of this disease, it can be difficult to cure.

Surgery and chemotherapy are common treatments, but they are not always appropriate. This was the case for Samir Tanios, who was diagnosed with malignant pleural mesothelioma in 2018. Tanios was too sick to survive surgery or chemotherapy, so his oncologist suggested something a little less common. Dr. Daniel Wang, who practices medicine at Baylor College of Medicine in Texas, suggested immunotherapy treatment.

What is immunotherapy?

In general, immunotherapy is a treatment that uses someone’s immune system to fight off diseases. This can be done by training the immune system to work harder or to target certain types of cells, like cancer cells. It can also be done by providing the body with man-made immune system components, like proteins.

Tanios tried a type of immunotherapy called an “immune checkpoint inhibitor.” This involves taking a drug that boosts the immune system by targeting the molecules on immune cells, so the immune cells are no longer prevented from attacking other cells in the body. Without an immune checkpoint inhibitor, immune cells most likely won't attack the cancer cells because they would think these cells are part of the body.

What are the possible outcomes?

For Tanios, this type of immunotherapy worked well. After a few months, he was feeling better and his tumors started shrinking. After a year, he had no new tumor activity, and he is no longer in pain.

Overall, Tanios feels good about his results, but there was one drawback. He developed Type 1 diabetes. A common concern with immune checkpoint inhibitors is that because the immune cells can attack cells that are part of the body, they can sometimes attack normal cells as well as the cancer cells.

Immunotherapy is not the best treatment option for everyone. However, it may offer hope to those who are unable to pursue more typical treatments.

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