Irinotecan and Gemcitabine as Second-Line Treatment in Patients with Malignant Pleural Mesothelioma following Platinum plus Pemetrexed Chemotherapy: A Retrospective Study

Oncology. 2021;99(3):161-168. doi: 10.1159/000510691. Epub 2020 Oct 14.


Background: Cisplatin-pemetrexed combination chemotherapy is the current standard primary treatment for malignant pleural mesothelioma (MPM). It was first approved for untreated and unresectable MPM in the 2003 National Comprehensive Cancer Network (NCCN) guidelines. However, to date, standard treatments for patients with MPM who previously underwent chemotherapy, as recommended by the NCCN Malignant Pleural Mesothelioma guidelines, have been inadequate. To explore treatment options for such patients, we performed this retrospective study of patients who received irinotecan plus gemcitabine as second-line therapy for MPM.

Methods: We investigated 62 patients diagnosed with unresectable MPM between January 2008 and October 2017 who experienced recurrence following cisplatin treatment (or carboplatin) plus pemetrexed or pemetrexed monotherapy as first-line treatment, and who underwent irinotecan plus gemcitabine combination therapy as second-line treatment. Irinotecan (60 mg/m2) and gemcitabine (800 mg/m2) were administered on days 1 and 8 every 3 weeks, including a 1-week washout period. Our endpoints were efficacy, survival period, and toxicity.

Results: patients' median age was 65 years (range 50-79), and the histological MPM types were epithelioid (n = 48), sarcomatoid (n = 6), biphasic (n = 6), and desmoplastic (n = 2). One patient experienced a partial response, 40 had stable disease, and 21 had progressive disease. The disease control rate was 66.1% and the response rate 2.1%. Additionally, the median progression-free and overall survival time were 5.7 and 11.3 months, respectively. The most common adverse events were neutropenia (32.2%), loss of appetite (16.1%), nausea/diarrhea (11.3%), and thrombocytopenia/phlebitis (9.7%). Grade 3 adverse events included neutropenia (12.9%) and thrombocytopenia/phlebitis (2.1%); however, all adverse events were managed with symptomatic therapy.

Conclusions: Despite the fact that second-line irinotecan plus gemcitabine combination therapy did not produce marked tumor shrinkage, it achieved a relatively high disease control rate of >65% with an acceptable toxicity profile. Hence, the combination of irinotecan plus gemcitabine may be considered for MPM treatment, with consideration of combination with immune checkpoint inhibitors as a potential next step.

Keywords: Gemcitabine; Irinotecan; Malignant pleural mesothelioma; Second-line treatment.

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Antimetabolites, Antineoplastic / therapeutic use*
  • Antineoplastic Combined Chemotherapy Protocols / therapeutic use*
  • Deoxycytidine / adverse effects
  • Deoxycytidine / analogs & derivatives*
  • Female
  • Gemcitabine
  • Humans
  • Irinotecan / adverse effects*
  • Japan / epidemiology
  • Kaplan-Meier Estimate
  • Leukopenia / chemically induced
  • Male
  • Mesothelioma, Malignant / drug therapy*
  • Mesothelioma, Malignant / epidemiology
  • Middle Aged
  • Neutropenia / chemically induced
  • Pemetrexed / therapeutic use*
  • Platinum / therapeutic use*
  • Progression-Free Survival
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Thrombocytopenia / chemically induced


  • Antimetabolites, Antineoplastic
  • Pemetrexed
  • Deoxycytidine
  • Platinum
  • Irinotecan
  • Gemcitabine