Immunotherapy for mesothelioma

Immunotherapy uses our immune system Open a glossary item to fight cancer. It works by helping the immune system recognise and attack cancer cells. It is a treatment for some people with pleural mesothelioma.

For pleural mesothelioma, you have 2 immunotherapy drugs called nivolumab and ipilimumab.

When you might have immunotherapy drugs for pleural mesothelioma

Pleural mesothelioma starts in the layer of tissue that covers the lungs (the pleura). You don’t usually have immunotherapy for mesothelioma that starts in the tissue covering the organs in your tummy (peritoneal mesothelioma).

For pleural mesothelioma, you might have immunotherapy drugs if you can’t have surgery. Immunotherapy helps to control the cancer.

You have it as your first treatment, before other treatment such as chemotherapy. You have to be fit and well enough to have immunotherapy.

Types of immunotherapy drugs for mesothelioma

For pleural mesothelioma, you have 2 immunotherapy drugs together. They are:

  • nivolumab
  • ipilimumab

They are types of immunotherapy drugs called checkpoint inhibitors. They work by blocking proteins that stop the immune system attacking cancer cells.

How you have nivolumab and ipilimumab

You have nivolumab and ipilimumab through a tube into your bloodstream (intravenously). You have each drug as a drip for over 30 minutes.

Your nurse may put a small tube (cannula) into one of your veins and connects the drug to it. They remove the cannula once the drip has finished.

Or you may need a central line. This is a long plastic tube that gives the drugs into a large vein, either in your chest or through a vein in your arm. It stays in the whole time you’re having treatment.

You have nivolumab once every 3 weeks, and ipilimumab once every 6 weeks.  

You usually carry on having the treatment for up to 2 years if it is controlling the growth of your mesothelioma. And if your side effects are not too severe. You might need a break in treatment if you have a problem with side effects.

Side effects

Immunotherapy drugs can cause different side effects. Some of these can be serious. Your doctor or nurse will talk to you about this. Always tell them about any side effects you have and follow the advice they give you.

You can read about the side effects of nivolumab and ipilimumab from our A to Z list of cancer drugs.

Clinical trials

Your doctor might ask if you’d like to take part in a clinical trial. Doctors and researchers do trials to make existing treatments better and develop new treatments.

  • Malignant pleural mesothelioma: ESMO Clinical Practice Guidelines for diagnosis, treatment and follow-up
    S. Popat and others
    Annals of Oncology, 2022 Volume 33, Issue 2, Pages 129 – 142

  • British Thoracic Society Guideline for the investigation and management of malignant pleural mesothelioma
    British Thoracic Society
    Thorax, 2018. Volume 73, Supplement 1, Pages 1-40

  • National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE)
    Accessed June 2023

  • Scottish Medicines Consortium (SMC)
    Accessed January 2024

Last reviewed: 
05 Jan 2024
Next review due: 
05 Jan 2027

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