Immunotherapy is a science that uses parts of the immune system to treat diseases, including different kinds of cancer. Also called biotherapy, the knowledge of this kind of treatment is not as advanced as other cancer treatments, but as scientists continue to learn more about the human immune system, more and more strides are being made in this field and immunotherapy will begin to play a larger role in the treatment of cancer.
Immunotherapy can be administered in one of two different ways. "Active" immunotherapy involves the administering of drugs that serve to enhance or stimulate the patient's existing immune system so that it will fight the disease being targeted. Adversely, "passive" immunotherapy involves man-made immune system proteins that are manufactured in a lab and are given to the patient to make up for what the body's existing immune system is lacking.
At this time, immunotherapy for mesothelioma is passive and involves targeted immunotherapies that seek out one particular kind of cell or antigen rather than stimulating the entire immune system. Currently, immunotherapy use for the treatment of mesothelioma is still in the clinical trial phases for the most part, so most patients who want to try it out will need to apply for the trials to determine if they qualify. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration, however, has approved a number of monoclonal antibodies to treat a variety of cancers, including Avastin® for mesothelioma. Generally, the use of Avastin is paired with chemotherapy for a multi-modal regimen that doctors hope will extend the patient's mesothelioma life expectancy.
Immunotherapy also includes the use of cancer vaccines to either prevent the disease or eradicate an already existing cancer. Currently, two preventive vaccines have been approved by the FDA but no treatment vaccines for cancer are approved for use in the U.S. However, a group of Dutch doctors recently reported that they've developed the first treatment vaccine for mesothelioma and reported their findings in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine. The Dutch vaccine uses tumor lysate-pulsed dendritic cells to stimulate the immune system of mesothelioma sufferers. The authors of the study reported extremely positive results during clinical trials.