Researchers are continuing to discover more effective ways of treating pleural mesothelioma — including ways to make existing treatment methods even more targeted and effective.

Radiation therapy for pleural mesothelioma is a standard treatment typically used for palliative care to slow disease progression and improve quality of life. However, radiation therapy is not usually used as a primary treatment.

Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania treated a man’s pleural mesothelioma case earlier this year using a combination of palliative radiation and immuno-gene therapy — a treatment that boosts the patient’s immune system to make it better at fighting cancer cells.

The outcome of this treatment combination was outstanding, resulting in the first time doctors have observed an “abscopal effect” in a mesothelioma patient — when treatment is so effective that it shrinks not only the tumors it targeted but also shrinks the tumors outside of the target area.

Radiation and Immuno-Gene Therapy for Pleural Mesothelioma

Radiation and immuno-gene therapy are two treatment options for pleural mesothelioma that can be administered separately or together. They both have unique goals, delivery methods, and possible side effects.

What Is Radiation Therapy for Pleural Mesothelioma?

Doctors prescribe radiation therapy for pleural mesothelioma to relieve pain or extend survival. Radiation is not painful. It involves a machine that shoots high-energy X-rays into the tumor to damage and kill cancerous cells.

If successful, radiation therapy will shrink tumors or prevent cancerous cells from spreading to other parts of the body.

The X-rays used in radiation therapy can damage nearby healthy tissues and cause adverse, but temporary, side effects. The most common side effects of radiation are skin irritation and fatigue.

What Is Immuno-Gene Therapy?

Immuno-gene therapy uses a combination of immunotherapy and gene therapy, and it’s used as a targeted treatment to shrink or slow the spread of mesothelioma tumors.

Immunotherapy uses a patient’s immune system to locate and destroy mesothelioma cells.

In immuno-gene therapy, doctors take blood samples from a patient, reprogram the genes in their white blood cells, and inject them back into the patient’s bloodstream. The genetically altered white blood cells are then able to find and fight mesothelioma cells in the body.

Possible side effects of immuno-gene therapy may include fatigue, fever, chills, and nausea.

Recent Case Shows Promising Results

New findings show that radiation therapy for pleural mesothelioma may actually be beneficial as a primary treatment when combined with immuno-gene therapy. This is important because radiation therapy is usually only thought to be effective as a secondary therapy.

A 67-year old male with pleural mesothelioma was treated at the University of Pennsylvania using a combination of palliative radiation and immuno-gene therapy.

The treatment outcomes showed promising results — the treatment combination was able to shrink tumors within the pleural area and beyond through the abscopal effect.

The patient was a former smoker with a history of asbestos exposure, breathing difficulties, and recurring bronchitis and chest pain. He had surgery to remove a portion of his right lung to manage pain and pressure.

The patient returned to the hospital 5 months later with similar health complaints and, upon imaging and tests, was diagnosed with epithelioid pleural mesothelioma.

The patient was admitted to the mesothelioma treatment unit and enrolled in a clinical trial to receive immuno-gene therapy. He had to discontinue the immuno-gene therapy due to heart complications induced from the location and size of his mesothelioma tumor.

He was immediately treated with palliative radiation therapy to help reduce tumor pressure on his heart. After completing radiation two months later, a CT scan showed a dramatic reduction in tumor size within and around the treated area.

Benefits of Targeted Combination Treatments

The patient’s positive response to the combination of immuno-gene therapy and radiation at the University of Pennsylvania is an important new finding.

The treatment combination was not only able to shrink tumors directly within the targeted treatment area but also in the surrounding area, a result not previously observed in other mesothelioma treatments.

Growing research indicates that combining various targeted treatments can produce more favorable results in mesothelioma patients.

Each mesothelioma case is unique and patients require targeted and specialized treatment for their case, genetics, and immune system markers. Finding these ideal treatment combinations and adapting them to fit the patient is the future of mesothelioma research and eventually finding a cure.

If you have received a mesothelioma diagnosis, contact our Justice Support Team today to have your case reviewed. Legal compensation can help you access top mesothelioma specialists who can prescribe the best treatment options for you.

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Laura WrightWritten by:

Lead Editor

Laura Wright is a journalist and content strategist with more than 15 years of professional experience. She attended college at the University of Florida, graduating magna cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in journalism in 2008. Her writing has been featured in The Gainesville Sun and other regional publications throughout Florida.

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  1. WebMD. (February 20, 2019.) Immune-Cell-Gene Therapy. Retrieved from

    Cancer.Net. (January 2019.) Understanding Immunotherapy. Retrieved from

    Barsky A R, Cengel K A, Katz S I, et al. (February 20, 2019) First-ever Abscopal Effect after Palliative Radiotherapy and Immuno-gene Therapy for Malignant Pleural Mesothelioma. Cureus 11(2): e4102. doi:10.7759/cureus.4102

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