Mesothelioma, a rare and aggressive cancer that most commonly affects the lining of the lungs, has long been a challenging diagnosis.

However, recent medical advancements in immunotherapy in combination with surgery are shining a light of hope for patients and their families.

A new retrospective study set to be published in Interdisciplinary Cardiovascular and Thoracic Surgery found that:

  • Mesothelioma immunotherapy is often effective at a cellular level, usually with fewer side effects than chemotherapy.
  • Salvage surgery (surgery performed after limited success with another treatment) could be an effective option after immunotherapy.
  • Surgery can become a viable treatment option after immunotherapy – even for those who didn’t initially qualify.

Keep reading to learn more about how immunotherapy may be able to open the door to surgery for mesothelioma patients.

The Growing Success of Immunotherapy for Mesothelioma

Immunotherapy is a type of mesothelioma treatment that stimulates the patient’s natural immune response to fight cancer cells.

For patients with pleural mesothelioma, the combination of Opdivo® (nivolumab) and Yervoy® (ipilimumab) is now an approved first-line treatment for those who aren’t eligible for surgery or want to avoid the side effects of chemotherapy.

Results from the CheckMate 743 clinical trial show that immunotherapy with Opdivo and Yervoy provides a superior survival benefit over chemotherapy (18.1 months vs. 14.1 months), and now it may even help more patients qualify for surgery.

A mesothelioma doctor can determine if immunotherapy might be a good option for you or a loved one. Find top mesothelioma specialists near you with our Free Doctor Match service.

Salvage Surgery and Immunotherapy: A Case for Hope

In the soon-to-be-published study, researchers reviewed the cases of 7 mesothelioma patients who didn’t qualify for mesothelioma surgery before they underwent immunotherapy.

After immunotherapy with Opdivo and Yervoy, patients were able to undergo salvage surgery with pleurectomy and decortication (P/D).

In all of the cases examined, the surgeries successfully removed all visible traces of the cancer. Not only were the results of immunotherapy evident on imaging scans with reduced tumor size, but tissue samples also showed reduced functioning capacity of the cancer cells removed during surgery.

The study found that even after 9 months of follow-up:

  • All 7 patients were still alive.
  • Only 1 patient had their mesothelioma come back.
  • Immunotherapy had effectively reduced cancer cell function.

Positive Treatment Outcomes for Sarcomatoid Mesothelioma

In one case, a 69-year-old man with sarcomatoid mesothelioma, the most aggressive mesothelioma cell type, experienced a 50% decrease in tumor size after a 3-month course of immunotherapy. Although he had been denied surgery previously, immunotherapy paved the way for surgery that successfully removed all visible cancer tissue.

As a result of the immunotherapy, the tumor tissue removed revealed evidence that less than 1% of cancer cells were still functioning. The patient was alive and without tumor recurrence 5 months after surgery.

With highly aggressive cell types like sarcomatoid mesothelioma, surgery isn’t often recommended, and chemotherapy isn’t as effective. However, by using immunotherapy first, these patients may be able to become candidates for surgery and further extend their life expectancy.

Many mesothelioma clinical trials continue to search for effective immunotherapy combinations and new treatment approaches to help patients live longer.

Get Help Accessing Immunotherapy Treatment for Mesothelioma

This case study represents a beacon of hope for the mesothelioma community. It suggests that immunotherapy followed by surgery could be a promising treatment strategy, even for patients with aggressive cancer.

The combination of immunotherapy and surgery could:

  • Extend life expectancy
  • Improve quality of life
  • Potentially offer a path to remission

Mesothelioma Hope is here to help you access immunotherapy and other treatments by connecting you with nearby specialists and clinical trials as well as financial assistance.

Get started by calling (866) 608-8933 now or signing up for our Free Doctor Match service.

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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. Peters, S., Scherpereel, A., Cornelissen, R., et al. (2022). First-line nivolumab plus ipilimumab versus chemotherapy in patients with unresectable malignant pleural mesothelioma: 3-year outcomes from CheckMate 743. Annals of Oncology. Retrieved January 11, 2024, from
  2. Takenaka, M., Kuroda, K., Yoshimatsu, K., et al. (November 15, 2023). Salvage pleurectomy/decortication following immunotherapy for malignant pleural mesothelioma. Interdisciplinary Cardiovascular Thoracic Surgery. Retrieved January 11, 2024, from

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