Opdivo Could Extend Life of Mesothelioma Victims: Study

Mesothelioma is a rare type of cancer caused by exposure to asbestos, and most individuals have a very short life expectancy by the time it is diagnosed. However, the findings of a new study indicate the cancer drug Opdivo may play a critical role in helping individuals with mesothelioma survive longer.

In a study presented at the World Conference on Lung Cancer, British researchers indicate that patients who have mesothelioma and have exhausted traditional forms of treatment may survive months longer by taking Opdivo, providing signals for an important new treatment for the disease.

Researchers included 332 patients in a clinical trial whose tumors were still growing after receiving chemotherapy, and the patients were not able to have surgery to treat their mesothelioma. A total of 221 patients were given Opdivo and 111 were given a placebo every two weeks for 12 months.

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Exposure to asbestos can cause the development of mesothelioma. Lawsuits have been filed nationwide against asbestos manufacturers.

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Opdivo, also known as nivolumab, is an immunotherapy drug approved to treat several other types of cancer. Last year, the FDA approved a combination of Opdivo and Yervoy to treat mesothelioma, despite earlier concerns regarding side effects, such as heart conditions and immune-related adverse events. It is the first drug approved for mesothelioma treatment in 16 years.

In the new study, patients who were given Opdivo had an increased chance of survival compared to placebo patients. The findings suggest Opdivo made the disease more stable for patients who relapsed after receiving standard cancer treatment.

Patients treated with Opdivo survived 9.2 months, compared to those given the placebo, who only survived 6.6 months longer. Furthermore, the risk of their cancer progressing was reduced by 39% and their cancer did not worsen for at least three months compared with 1.8 months in the placebo group.

Mesothelioma is a particularly deadly form of cancer, as it is often at a very late stage by the time it is diagnosed. The only known cause is exposure to asbestos particles, and the cancer is often diagnosed decades later.

Although most uses of asbestos have been banned in the United States, new mesothelioma cases continue to be diagnosed among former workers exposed to the toxic fibers, as well as children and family members who breathed the fibers carried home on work clothing or in the hair.

Asbestos lawsuits have been one of the longest-running mass torts in the United States, involving thousands of claims brought against companies that manufactured or sold products containing the substance.

Roughly 3,000 people are diagnosed with mesothelioma in the United States each year. Currently only 7% of people with mesothelioma survive the disease for five years or more. Patients are typically treated with chemotherapy, surgery or radiotherapy. Until now, there has been no treatment than can significantly improve outcomes for patients.

This is the first study to indicate a treatment and offer improved survival for patients with mesothelioma that have relapsed after chemotherapy, researchers claim.

“This trial shows clear evidence of benefit and marks a major breakthrough in the treatment of mesothelioma, a disease where there are currently very few options for patients when first-line chemotherapy has stopped working and prognosis is often very poor,” the researchers wrote.

The findings were presented at the World Conference on Lung Cancer and are considered preliminary until published in a peer reviewed journal.

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