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Opdivo and Yervoy for Mesothelioma Immunotherapy

Opdivo® and Yervoy® are groundbreaking treatments that harness the body’s own immune system to fight cancer. Multiple studies have shown that combining these two immunotherapy drugs helps patients diagnosed with pleural mesothelioma live longer. Learn more about the medical benefits, potential side effects, and how Mesothelioma Hope can help you find a doctor for immunotherapy right now.

Fact-Checked and Updated by: Jenna Tozzi, RN

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What Is Opdivo?

Opdivo (generic name nivolumab) is one of the first immunotherapy drugs approved for pleural mesothelioma, along with Yervoy (generic name ipilimumab).

In October 2020, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the combination of Opdivo and Yervoy for pleural mesothelioma patients who aren’t eligible for surgery. Prior to this, both drugs had already been approved to treat other cancers.

In clinical trials, ipilimumab and nivolumab helped patients diagnosed with malignant pleural mesothelioma live 4 months longer on average than chemotherapy.

Key Facts on Opdivo for Mesothelioma

  • Generic name: Nivolumab
  • Combined treatments: Yervoy and chemotherapy drugs like cisplatin, carboplatin, and platinum plus
  • Delivery method: Intravenous (IV) injection
  • Possible side effects: Fatigue, muscle and bone pain, rash, decreased appetite, dyspnea (shortness of breath), diarrhea, cough, nausea, pruritus (itching at injection site)
  • Patient eligibility factors: Patients must be in good overall health, have advanced-stage mesothelioma, and have the epithelial or biphasic mesothelioma cell types to receive Opdivo.
  • Impact on survival rate: When used with Yervoy, the 2-year median survival rate is 41% (compared to 27% for chemotherapy alone).

Learn more about how Opdivo and Yervoy work in our Free Immunotherapy Guide.

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What Are the Benefits of Opdivo for Mesothelioma?

Opdivo is ideal for pleural mesothelioma patients who don’t qualify for surgery or have advanced-stage mesothelioma that has spread to other parts of the body.

There are several benefits of taking Opdivo for mesothelioma.

These benefits include:

  • Improved quality of life. Opdivo may help reduce symptoms, such as shortness of breath and chest pain, leading to a higher quality of life.
  • Longer life expectancy. By enhancing the body’s immune response, Opdivo has the potential to extend survival time and offer hope to patients and their families.
  • Potential alternative to other treatments. Opdivo can be considered when other treatments are no longer effective, providing a new avenue to managing this cancer.

How Does Opdivo Work for Mesothelioma?

Opdivo boosts the body’s immune system so special cells called T cells are able to attack mesothelioma cells. Learn more about how it works below.

1. Opdivo Interacts With T Cells

T cells, a crucial component of the immune system, identify and neutralize foreign threats or abnormal cells in the body, including cancer cells.

In patients diagnosed with mesothelioma, cancer cells can hide from T cells and make them inactive. Inactive T cells are unable to attack cancer.

Opdivo works by blocking this signal, allowing T cells to recognize and attack mesothelioma cells.

2. Opdivo Blocks PD-1

Opdivo is engineered to act as an immune checkpoint inhibitor and targets the PD-1 protein.

In simple terms, a PD-1 receptor (Programmed Cell Death Protein 1 receptor) acts like a “brake” to control and regulate the body’s immune response.

By blocking immune checkpoints like PD-1, Opdivo ensures that the immune system can recognize and attack cancer cells more efficiently, reducing their ability to evade detection.

3. T Cells Recognize and Attack Mesothelioma Cancer Cells

By blocking PD-1, Opdivo ensures that T cells can “see” mesothelioma cells more clearly.

The activated T cells launch an immune response to attack the pleural mesothelioma tumor cells. This immune response can shrink tumors, slow down cancer growth, and even lead to partial or complete remission in some cases.

A mesothelioma doctor can offer more details on how this process works and answer any questions you have about immunotherapy. Use our Free Doctor Match to find local specialists today.

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Opdivo Side Effects

Opdivo, like many medications, can cause some patients to experience side effects that range from mild to more severe.

Some common Opdivo side effects include:

  • Cough
  • Diarrhea
  • Dyspnea (shortness of breath)
  • Nausea
  • Pain in muscles, bones, and joints
  • Rashes and itchiness at the injection site (pruritis)
  • Tiredness

Opdivo can also cause your T cells to attack the healthy cells in your organs, like your lungs, liver, and thyroid glands. This can harm them and cause issues like immune-mediated pneumonitis (inflamed lung tissue), colitis (inflamed colon), and hypothyroidism.

Your health care team will educate you about potential Opdivo side effects and develop a plan to manage them.

Combining Opdivo and Yervoy for Mesothelioma

Opdivo and Yervoy both fall under the class of medications known as immune checkpoint inhibitors.

The synergy between Opdivo and Yervoy enhances the body’s immune response, offering a potent combination against cancer cells.

Here’s how they work together:

  • Opdivo starts to activate T cells: Opdivo blocks the PD-1 receptors, activating your immune system’s T cells to defend against the cancer cells.
  • Yervoy continues this process: Yervoy complements Opdivo by blocking another immune checkpoint protein on T cells called CTLA-4.
  • Both drugs offer a combined boost: Opdivo and Yervoy have a combined effect that supercharges your T cells’ ability to seek and destroy mesothelioma cells.

What to Expect During Treatment With Opdivo and Yervoy

If you or a loved one qualifies for immunotherapy treatment with Opdivo and Yervoy, there are a few things you can generally expect. Read more about the infusion process and required follow-up care below.

1. Opdivo Infusion Sessions Every 3 Weeks

Opdivo is administered through IV infusion. Patients typically receive treatment every three weeks. The infusion process usually lasts about 30 minutes.

Your health care team will ensure you are comfortable during the infusion process and address questions or concerns you may have.

2. Yervoy Infusion Sessions Every 6 Weeks

If you are receiving both Opdivo and Yervoy, you’ll get a Yervoy infusion along with an Opdivo infusion every 6 weeks. These infusions may also take about an hour (30 minutes for each).

Similar to Opdivo, you will undergo pre-infusion medical assessments and be closely monitored by health care professionals during the session.

3. Comprehensive Follow-Up Care

When taking Opdivo for mesothelioma, getting the right follow-up care is important so your health care team can monitor your progress.

The specifics of your follow-up care will vary depending on your mesothelioma treatment plan and how you respond to Opdivo.

Your follow-up care may include:

  • Regular check-ups with your health care team to monitor your progress
  • Imaging tests such as computed tomography (CT) and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans
  • Adjustments or additions to your treatment plan
  • Changes to your diet to reduce side effects and help you recover from treatment
  • Healthy lifestyle habits such as staying physically active and getting enough sleep

Your mesothelioma doctor can provide a detailed breakdown of what to expect and address any concerns you may have about Opdivo and Yervoy.

Bring our Free Questions to Ask Your Doctor checklist to your next appointment to get answers and peace of mind before starting treatment.

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Clinical Research on Opdivo and Yervoy for Mesothelioma

Opdivo and Yervoy were approved as a first-line (standard) mesothelioma treatment after clinical trials showed they could help patients live longer.

The CheckMate 743 trial compared the combination of Opdivo and Yervoy against chemotherapy in a group of patients with pleural mesothelioma.

The trial showed that patients who received Opdivo and Yervoy for mesothelioma had an average survival of 18.1 months, compared to 14.1 months for the patients who received chemotherapy.

After 3 years, 23% of the same patients were still alive, and 14% had seen no progression in their cancer.

Opdivo continues to be tested in mesothelioma clinical trials for different stages of mesothelioma and in combination with other treatments like chemotherapy and surgery.

See if Opdivo and Yervoy Are Right for You

Opdivo and Yervoy are changing the landscape of mesothelioma treatment and providing newfound hope to patients.

Their proven ability to extend survival, improve quality of life, and promote cancer remission make them a valuable tool in the fight against mesothelioma.

If you or a loved one is battling mesothelioma, our team of nurses and Patient Advocates can help you find out if Opdivo and Yervoy should be part of your treatment plan.

Call us now at (866) 608-8933 or use our Free Doctor Match to get connected with top mesothelioma specialists in your area.

Opdivo and Yervoy for Mesothelioma Immunotherapy FAQs

Is nivolumab approved for mesothelioma?

Yes, nivolumab for mesothelioma is approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in combination with ipilimumab. Nivolumab and ipilimumab are more commonly known as Opdivo and Yervoy, respectively.

It’s important to note that this combination is only approved for patients diagnosed with pleural mesothelioma (cancer of the lung lining) who aren’t able to have surgery.

What is the success rate of nivolumab for mesothelioma patients?

Results from the CheckMate 743 clinical trial showed that nivolumab combined with ipilimumab (another immune checkpoint inhibitor) reduced the risk of death from mesothelioma by 26% compared to platinum-based chemotherapy.

Its success in improving survival is one of the primary reasons this immunotherapy regimen has been approved to treat mesothelioma patients for whom surgery isn’t an option.

How much does Opdivo cost?

According to a 2022 Frontiers in Oncology report, it can cost more than $292,000 per year to receive Opdivo and Yervoy for mesothelioma.

The exact cost depends on your treatment plan and whether you have health insurance.

Fortunately, you may be eligible for financial aid to help you pay for Opdivo, Yervoy, and other treatments.

If you qualify, Mesothelioma Hope’s Patient Advocates can help you pursue compensation from legal claims, asbestos trust funds, and other sources.

Connect with a Patient Advocate now at (866) 608-8933 to learn more about your options for financial assistance.

How long can you take Opdivo for mesothelioma?

You can receive Opdivo for mesothelioma for up to 2 years if you don’t have severe side effects, according to the medication’s manufacturer (Bristol-Myers Squibb).

Your health care team will determine the appropriate treatment duration for your case.

How long does it take for Opdivo to work?

How long it takes Opdivo to work can vary from person to person.

Some patients may experience benefits in a few weeks to months, while for others it takes a year or more.

Your medical team will closely monitor your progress and adjust your treatment plan as needed.

How do I know if Opdivo is working?

Your health care team will assess the effectiveness of Opdivo through various means, including imaging studies and regular check-ups.

Opdivo may be working if your cancer tumors shrink or stop growing, or if your cancer symptoms decrease.

If your doctor determines Opdivo for mesothelioma is not effective in your case, they can help you explore other treatment options.

What are the long-term side effects of Opdivo?

You may experience a number of side effects while being treated with Opdivo.

Long-term Opdivo side effects include:

  • Arthralgia (joint pain) and myalgia (muscle pain)
  • Colitis (inflammation of the colon)
  • Diarrhea
  • Hepatitis (liver inflammation)
  • Kidney problems
  • Nervous system issues
  • Pneumonitis (lung inflammation)
  • Skin issues (rash or pruritus)
  • Thyroid disorders (hypothyroidism or hyperthyroidism)

You may experience side effects because Opdivo stimulates T cells, which could attack healthy organs and cells while working to kill mesothelioma cells.

Jenna TozziWritten by:

Director of Patient Advocacy

Jenna Tozzi, RN, is the Director of Patient Advocacy at Mesothelioma Hope. With more than 15 years of experience as an adult and pediatric oncology nurse navigator, Jenna provides exceptional guidance and support to mesothelioma patients and their loved ones. Jenna has been featured in Oncology Nursing News and is a member of the Academy of Oncology Nurse & Patient Navigators & the American Nurses Association.

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  2. Baas, P., et al. (2021). First-line nivolumab plus ipilimumab in unresectable malignant pleural mesothelioma (CheckMate 743): a multicentre, randomised, open-label, phase 3 trial. Lancet (London, England), 397(10272), 375–386. Retrieved November 9, 2023, from
  3. Bristol-Myers Squibb. (n.d.). “How Does OPDIVO® Work With My Immune System?” Retrieved November 9, 2023, from
  4. Bristol-Myers Squibb. (n.d.). THE OPDIVO + YERVOY CLINICAL TRIAL.” Retrieved November 9, 2023, from
  5. Bristol-Myers Squibb. (n.d.). Your treatment plan at a glance. Retrieved November 9, 2023, from
  6. National Cancer Institute. (2023, November 3). “Nivolumab.” Retrieved November 9, 2023, from
  7. The ASCO Post. (2022, February 14). Updated efficacy and safety data from checkmate 743 first-line nivolumab/ipilimumab vs chemotherapy for unresectable malignant pleural mesothelioma. Retrieved November 9, 2023, from
  8. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. (2020, October 2). FDA approves nivolumab and ipilimumab for unresectable malignant pleural mesothelioma. Retrieved November 9, 2023, from
  9. Yamazaki, H., et al. (2017). Potential Risk Factors for Nivolumab-induced Thyroid Dysfunction. In vivo (Athens, Greece), 31(6), 1225–1228. Retrieved November 9, 2023, from
  10. Ye, Z. M., Tang, Z. Q., Xu, Z., Zhou, Q., & Li, H. (2022). Cost-effectiveness of nivolumab plus ipilimumab as first-line treatment for American patients with unresectable malignant pleural mesothelioma. Frontiers in public health, 10, 947375. Retrieved November 9, 2023, from
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