Mesothelioma Treatments

Mesothelioma Immunotherapy

Immunotherapy is the manipulation of a patient's immune system to help them fight a disease. Immunotherapy is also known as biological therapy, biotherapy, or biological response modifier (BRM) therapy. A person's immune system does not normally react to or destroy cancer cells because when the immune system is functioning normally, it destroys only cells that it recognizes as foreign, such as bacteria and viruses.

A healthy immune system does not destroy cancer cells because cancer cells are produced by the body and it does not recognize them as foreign. Immunotherapy tricks the immune system into believing that cancer cells are foreign. When immunotherapy is administered to cancer patients, the immune system can be made to destroy cancer cells while leaving normal healthy cells unharmed.

The immune system recognizes the difference between cells produced by the body and foreign bodies by recognizing and reacting to antigens. Antigens are molecules that are present on the surface of all cells, whether human, bacterial or viral. A normal immune system reacts to and destroys cells that produce antigens that are foreign, but does not react to cells that produce "self" antigen (an antigen produced by the body). Immunotherapy, therefore, is designed to make the immune system recognize antigens on cancer cells as foreign, so the immune system can destroy those cells.

In addition to killing existing cancer, immunotherapy is also is used to block the process that mesothelioma uses to convert a healthy cell into a cancer cell, and may even reverse the process. It is also hoped that BRMs can stop the metastasis of mesothelioma to other sites in the body, preventing further growth.

Active Immunotherapy for Mesothelioma

Active immunotherapy treatments stimulate the immune system to fight disease. Vaccines, for example, are a type of active immunotherapy. Cancer vaccines are slightly different in that they are designed to fight diseases that already exist in the body as opposed to vaccines whose purpose is to prevent disease. Mesothelioma vaccines are created by removing live cancer cells from a mesothelioma patient. The cells or antigens are modified in a laboratory so they can be recognized as foreign bodies by the patient's immune system and are then injected back into the patient.

Passive Immunotherapy Treatment for Mesothelioma

Passive immunotherapy treatments are treatments that use antigens that are created outside the body as opposed to using the patient's own cancer to fight itself. These types of treatments do not attempt to force the immune system to actively destroy cancer cells.

An example of a passive immunotherapy treatment is monoclonal antibody therapy, which is the most widely used immunotherapy for treating cancer. Antibodies are molecules the immune system produces to fight infections. In a healthy immune system, antibodies are produced that recognize and bind to foreign antigens present on foreign cells. These antibodies target foreign cells for destruction by other parts of the immune system.

In monoclonal antibody therapy cancer cells are removed from a patient, which are then grown in a laboratory with other cells that produce antibodies in response to antigens on the cancer cells. The monoclonal antibodies are then injected into the patient. Once inside the body, the antibodies recognize and bind to tumor cells since the tumor cells possess the same antigen that the antibodies were created to identify. In a successful treatment, the antigens destroy the cancer cells.

As with active immunotherapy, passive immunotherapy treatments are specific to an individual patient because cancer cells from the patient's own body are used to create the antigens.

Non-specific Immunotherapy for Mesothelioma

Non-specific immunotherapy treatments are different from other types of immunotherapy in that they do not use cancer cells from the patient's body. Instead, non-specific treatments rely on molecules called cytokines. Cytokines are molecules that direct and control the immune system. These chemicals have a variety of functions and enable different types of immune cells to communicate with one another.

Cytokines are usually administered in conjunction with other immunotherapy treatments. For example, cytokines called Interferon and Interleukin-2 can be used to boost immune response to a cancer vaccine. In case studies, Intrapleural administration of interleukin 2 has resulted in objective responses in up to 55 percent of the cases in two trials including patients in the early stages of disease, but there have also been serious side effects including fever and cachexia which is a wasting disease in which the sufferer looses large amounts of fat and muscle tissue. They have proved less successful in cases with more advanced mesothelioma.

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