If you’ve sought medical advice for mesothelioma-related lung cancer, your doctor may have mentioned Keytruda (pembrolizumab) to you. Because mesothelioma-related cancers are difficult to treat, it’s exciting for many patients to hear that a new drug may help slow or stop the growth of cancer cells. At the same time, any new treatment comes with risks and plenty of questions.
To help provide you with the information you need, we’ve compiled some important information regarding Keytruda into this article. It’s important to note, however, that this article does not represent medical or legal advice and that you should seek treatment or representation from a skilled professional.
What is Keytruda?
Keytruda is the brand name for pembrolizumab, a monoclonal antibody drug used for immunotherapy treatment. Produced by Merck, the goal of Keytruda is to block certain signals to a patient’s white blood cells so that they will attack cancer cells.
Some of our white blood cells, called T cells, work hard to fight off viruses, bacteria, and other diseases. Healthy T cells “communicate” with other cells to determine whether they are “bad”. T cells do this by using a particular protein (PD-1) to bind and “communicate” with the cells it comes in contact with. Those what have PD-L1 and PD-L2 proteins are considered safe and healthy by the T cell and the T cell moves on.
Unfortunately, some tumors are composed of cancer cells that have this same PD-L1 and PD-L2 proteins. When the T cell comes in contact with them, it believes they are normal cells and leaves them alone. Keytruda works by shutting down the communication between the T cell and PD-L1 proteins. In this way, the T cell is able to ignore the PD-L1 protein and recognize the tumor’s cancer cells as bad. It will then attack those cells and attempt to eradicate them.
How Can Keytruda Help Fight Mesothelioma?
Not all patients with mesothelioma-related illnesses will be helped by Keytruda since mesothelioma encompasses a range of cancers and illnesses. Currently, Keytruda is being used to fight advanced non-small cell lung cancer, advanced melanoma, head and neck squamous cell cancer, classical Hodgkin lymphoma, microsatellite instability-high cancer, and advanced urothelial bladder cancer.
In order for those with mesothelioma-related lung cancer to be eligible for treatment with Keytruda, their lung cancer must be considered non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) and test positive for PD-L1 (programmed death ligand 1). In addition, the tumor cannot have abnormal epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) or anaplastic lymphoma kinase (ALK) genes. Most mesothelioma-related lung cancers are not considered NSCLC, however, Keytruda still presents hope to mesothelioma patients.
Clinical trials for those suffering from malignant pleural mesothelioma, a mesothelioma-related lung cancer, are currently underway. Because many patients with malignant pleural mesothelioma have PD-L1 positive tumors, Keytruda presents an opportunity to enlist the services of a patient’s own immune system in attacking the disease. Recent news of a clinical trial combining Merck’s Keytruda and Aduro’s CRS-207 for resistant strains of malignant pleural mesothelioma may also provide important insight into treating mesothelioma cancers.
What Are the Risks Associated with Taking Keytruda?
Every treatment carries risk. In the case of Keytruda, which is more often used as a last resort for nonresponsive cancers, there is a chance that one’s immune system will be spurred to attack healthy organs and tissues, leading to other illnesses or problems. Possible side effects include lung problems, colitis, hepatitis, gland problems, kidney failure, joint pain, muscle weakness, and more, including death.
The best way to determine whether Keytruda is an appropriate treatment option for your mesothelioma-related lung cancer is to have an open discussion with your oncologist. Your oncologist will test you to determine whether you are an appropriate candidate for the treatment and inform you of any risks you may be more susceptible to.
Medical treatments are always advancing thanks to the hard work of doctors, researchers, and pharmacologists. While Keytruda may not be the right choice for everyone, it presents a new treatment avenue for doctors and patients seeking to fight mesothelioma-related cancers.