If you or someone you care about have been diagnosed with an asbestos-related disease such as mesothelioma, you know that many kinds of mesothelioma support are important: emotional, financial, practical. The most important, and the most challenging, form of mesothelioma support, however, is medical. A recent development offers a ray of hope on the medical front. Merck’s cancer drug Keytruda may provide a new reason to hope for patients with malignant mesothelioma.
Pathway to Mesothelioma Support
Keytruda (the trade name for the drug pembrolizumab) helps the body’s immune system fight cancerous tumors such as malignant mesothelioma. It works by outsmarting a trick that cancer cells use to evade disease-fighting T-cells.
When your body’s immune system recognizes an intruder such as a tumor, it mobilizes an army of white blood cells. T-cells are an important part of this disease-fighting crew, since many of them can adapt to take on different roles depending on what the situation requires of them.
It’s hard to outsmart a T-cell. Some cancers do this by shutting down an important checkpoint in the immune system known as the PD-1 pathway. PD-1 stands for programmed cell death protein 1. The PD-1 pathway activates the T-cells, telling them to attack an invader. Some cancerous tumors do an end run around T-cells by taking control of the PD-1 pathway and keeping the T-cells from turning on.
Keytruda is part of a class of cancer fighting drugs called PD-1 inhibitors. These inhibitors cut off the cancer’s access to the PD-1 pathway so that the cancer cells become visible to the T-cells, which are then alerted to destroy the tumor. Not every mesothelioma tumor will respond to this type of treatment. Tumors that involve PD-1 expression are the best candidates for Keytruda.
Hope from Clinical Trials
In early results from clinical trials on patients with tumors, including some mesothelioma patients, as many as 75% showed some benefits from Keytruda. Some patients in the trial had no tumor growth while others showed an actual decrease in the size of the tumors.
Keytruda went on the market in the United States in 2014 to treat melanoma, a fast-moving and deadly form of skin cancer. Since then, its maker, Merck, has received approval for trials on other types of tumors.
One famous cancer patient who recently had a positive experience with Keytruda is former president Jimmy Carter. President Carter was diagnosed with malignant melanoma, which had metastasized to his liver and brain. When he announced his diagnosis, in 2015, it appeared that his prognosis was not good. Less than a year later, after several treatments, including Keytruda, Mr. Carter’s prognosis is looking up.
Scientific Developments Build Mesothelioma Support
Maybe the most important factor in the news about Keytruda is that it shows that scientists are in hot pursuit of the causes of some of the deadliest forms of cancer, including mesothelioma. New technologies have brought new ability to study cancer molecules in great detail and there is hope for a better understanding of the mechanisms that lead to the wild growth of cancer cells. With technological advances, DNA sequencing has become more accessible to patients and doctors to aide with diagnosis. With better information, doctors are able to make better decisions about patient care.
These developments in mesothelioma support have come about, at least in part, due to an active mesothelioma community that has encouraged scientists to study new treatment options. Mesothelioma patients, survivors, and families of people with this cancer have demanded attention and the medical community has listened. While much more is needed, new developments in treatment are an important lifeline for those suffering from this dangerous disease.
More About Mesothelioma
Mesothelioma is a cancer of the mesothelium, the lining around the organs in the chest. The most common form of mesothelioma is Pleural mesothelioma. Pleural mesothelioma, which accounts for 75% to 80% of diagnosed cases, has a very detrimental impact on the lungs. It affects the lining around the lung and results from asbestos fibers being inhaled which causes inflammation and irritation. If you have worked around or otherwise been exposed to asbestos, it’s a good idea to be aware of the signs that you might have developed mesothelioma. Some of the symptoms include difficulty breathing (shortness of breath) and pain under your ribs, according to the National Cancer Institute at the National Institutes of Health.
Mesothelioma can show up many years or decades after your exposure, even if you are in good health. It’s important to get checked promptly if you have symptoms that might be mesothelioma and you have been exposed to asbestos. The earlier you are diagnosed, the greater your chance of successfully holding back mesothelioma with treatments such as Keytruda.
While the recent breakthroughs of drugs such as Keytruda offer genuine mesothelioma support and hope for mesothelioma patients, more research is still needed. There is an arsenal of cancer treatments that may be deployed more effectively against mesothelioma as we understand more about the mechanisms that cause this cancer and the progression of the disease. Mesothelioma Circle is here to support patients and their families and to celebrate developments such as Keytruda, which provide much-needed reasons to hope for better outcomes in the future.