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Personalized cancer treatments for mesothelioma: 5 FAQs

Getting a diagnosis of cancer begins a treatment journey unique to each person and affected family. Though two people may have the same type of cancer, how it affects someone depends on many individual factors.

In response to this, researchers are developing personalized cancer vaccines, seeking to provide each patient with more effective treatment. In this post, we will use a Q & A format to inform you about these vaccines and how they may be able to help mesothelioma patients.

What are personalized cancer vaccines?

Personalized cancer vaccines manipulate a patient's immune system to better fight cancer cells. Researchers must first do a biopsy of the patient's tumor to understand its mutated cells and compare it to healthy cells. The doctors can then target the mutated cells' antigens with a personalized vaccine.

What is mesothelioma?

Mesothelioma is cancer that most commonly develops in a person's lung or abdomen tissue lining (the mesothelium) as a result of asbestos exposure. There are different types of mesothelioma, the most common being pleural mesothelioma and peritoneal mesothelioma. The former affects the lungs, while the latter affects the abdomen.

Are there any personalized vaccines for mesothelioma?

Yes. Currently, many of these vaccines are still in the trial stages. Earlier this year, Stanford University School of Medicine researchers revealed the results of a study on a stem-cell specific vaccine that could help treat and prevent mesothelioma in patients.

Are there any other promising studies?

Yes. In 2016, there was a study specifically tailored to mesothelioma. Scientists combined a dendritic cell vaccination with a chemotherapy drug to treat patients with malignant pleural mesothelioma. Seven of the 10 patients survived for 24 months or more, while two lived for more than 50 and 66 months.

In 2017, results from a clinical trial on personalized vaccines for melanoma patients also returned promising results. This could be significant for mesothelioma patients because melanoma and mesothelioma share a common gene, BAP1. Four of the six patients saw no recurrence after 25 months of treatment. The other two patients experienced recurrence, but achieved complete remission after receiving further immunotherapy.

Are there side effects?

With any type of drugs, side effects are always a potential concern. This is especially true with experimental cancer vaccines, where the risks and effects of the drugs are often greatly uncertain.

In general, researchers from two studies cited above reported mild side effects and deemed the vaccines ultimately safe for use. In the 2017 melanoma experiment, subjects experienced rashes, fatigue and even some symptoms of the flu. The 2016 study reported the only side effect being a fever.

What lies ahead

Though these studies of personalized cancer vaccines have only been performed on small groups, researchers believe they show promising results for larger trials in the future.

When cancer is involved, however, the future is always uncertain. If you or a loved one has mesothelioma or has been exposed to asbestos, talk with an attorney about your legal rights.

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