The Side Effects of Immunotherapy vs. Chemotherapy for Mesothelioma Treatment
Immunotherapy and chemotherapy are cancer treatments used for some patients in the treatment of malignant mesothelioma. Each treatment option uses a different method to target the cancer. While immunotherapy uses the body’s own immune system to kill and stop or slow the growth of cancerous cells, chemotherapy uses chemicals to fight the growth of cancerous cells.
If you were diagnosed with mesothelioma, or have someone close to you who was, you know that mesothelioma can be a fast-acting and painful disease. Doctors often need to act quickly to target and treat this rare cancer, a cancer that often goes undiagnosed until its later stages.
After a diagnosis, patients need to know what to expect and how to manage the side effects of the treatment or treatments they will be undergoing. Be sure to communicate with your doctor about any questions or concerns regarding your or your loved one’s treatment. It’s okay to ask if the side effects you’re experiencing are normal.
If you haven’t already been in touch with a mesothelioma lawyer to discuss your family’s legal options following a mesothelioma diagnosis, we invite you to reach out to our team at Frost Law Firm, PC. We can set up a free consultation to learn more about your case and what we can do to help.
The information below is intended to inform patients of the side effects of two well-known mesothelioma treatments: immunotherapy and chemotherapy. To learn more about mesothelioma treatment options, contact your physician or mesothelioma attorney with questions. You can also learn more in our glossary of medical terminology patients and their families need to know.
Immunotherapy Side Effects
Immunotherapy is a form of cancer treatment that uses the patient’s own immune system to control and eliminate cancer. Immunotherapy is a broad term that can cover many different types of biotherapy, using materials from living organisms to fight disease. This can include several methods, such as immune checkpoint inhibitors and targeted antibodies.
As with most types of powerful mesothelioma-fighting treatments, the side effects of immunotherapy can be significant, and are different for each person. What symptoms you as the patient might experience will depend on the kind of immunotherapy therapy you’re undergoing, the type of mesothelioma you’ve been diagnosed with, your overall health, and other factors.
The NIH National Cancer Institute states that there are many side effects common to all types of immunotherapy. Mesothelioma patients treating the disease with immunotherapy can expect mild to severe symptoms including the ones listed below—although not every person will experience the same symptoms, or any at all. If your symptoms are abnormal, changing, or worsening, speak with your doctor as soon as possible.
- Skin reactions at the needle site (itching, pain, redness, swelling, soreness, or a rash)
- Fever, chills, headaches, and flu-like body aches
- Fatigue, weakness, or dizziness
- Changes in blood pressure
- Swelling and weight gain from fluid retention
- Nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea
- Sinus congestion
- Heart palpitations
- Shortness of breath
Additionally, an effect known as “immunotherapy pneumonitis” can occur when the immunotherapy treatments stimulate immune responses against a variety of tissues in the body, not only the targeted tumors. In this situation, healthy, normal cells can be attacked. This has been observed in the treatment of lung cancers like pleural mesothelioma, as air passages and small air sacs are affected simultaneously with the immune response against the cancer. Pneumonitis, or lung inflammation, and its associated issues can develop.
The emergence of immunotherapy as a valid treatment option for mesothelioma is a tremendous advancement in the fight against this rare cancer, but doctors still need to take precautions against immune-related adverse effects. The above-listed side effects are ones that doctors and patients should look out for when treating mesothelioma through immunotherapy.
Chemotherapy Side Effects
Chemotherapy is a drug treatment used to kill cancer cells in the body. There are several different types of drugs used in chemotherapy, and one or more drugs may be used in a patient’s treatment. While chemotherapy targets the rapidly-growing cancer cells, normal cells can also be affected. This leads to many of the symptoms associated with this type of mesothelioma treatment.
According to the American Cancer Society (ACS), the normal cells most likely to be damaged by chemo drugs are blood-forming cells in the bone marrow, hair follicles, and mouth, digestive tract, and reproductive system cells. Some chemo drugs have been known to affect cells in the heart, kidneys, bladder, lungs, and nervous system as well. There are medications that can relieve side effects and protect the normal cells in the body. Your doctor can make recommendations about which medications might be appropriate for your situation, and provide pain management tips for coping with discomfort.
While the type and severity of symptoms experienced varies widely from patient to patient, the following side effects are the ones most frequently associated with chemotherapy:
- Anemia (low red blood cell count)
- Nausea, vomiting, changes in appetite, and weight loss
- Diarrhea, constipation, and other changes in digestive functions
- Dry and discolored skin
- Bruising and bleeding easily
- Kidney pain and urinary function changes
- Numbness and tingling indicating nerve damage
- Fertility problems and sexual function changes
- Fatigue, weakness, and mood changes
- “Chemo brain” (various cognitive issues like confusions, fogginess, or forgetfulness)
- Sores and pain in the mouth and throat
- Hair loss
Continue to communicate well with your care team throughout your chemotherapy regimen. It’s very important to keep your doctor informed about the symptoms you are experiencing, especially any unusual, changing, worsening, or unmanageable side effects. If you think that you may be experiencing an abnormal side effect, contact your doctor as soon as you notice the condition.
The ACS warns chemotherapy patients of the signs that can indicate a serious problem. Reach out to a member of your cancer treatment team immediately—even outside of normal office hours—if you observe any of the issues listed below. You or a companion may need to dial 911 if the situation is urgent. Be on the lookout for:
- An abnormally high fever (usually above 100.5°F -101°F)
- Intense chills or body aches
- An allergic reaction, especially swelling or closing of the throat
- Unusual rashes, bruises, or unexplained bleeding
- Intense chronic headaches
- Bloody stool or urine
- Severe diarrhea or vomiting lasting longer than usual
- Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
Finally, make sure your doctor is well aware of any prescription medications, over-the-counter drugs, vitamins, supplements, or herbal remedies you are taking. Any of these can interact with the drugs used in chemotherapy. Your doctor will be able to advise you regarding what is and is not safe to take while undergoing chemotherapy treatments.
Find a Mesothelioma Lawyer You Can Trust
You should never have to fight mesothelioma alone. After a mesothelioma diagnosis, your mesothelioma lawyer can be one of your greatest allies. Our team has over 30 combined years of mesothelioma and asbestos trial experience. We have represented victims and their families across the country, and we are proud to have secured record mesothelioma settlements for our clients.
A mesothelioma diagnosis is personal to us. At Frost Law Firm, PC, we fight for a future in which no one needs to live in fear of this disease. If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with mesothelioma, contact our office to begin a conversation with one of our attorneys.