What Is Mesothelioma?
Mesothelioma is a cancer that affects the mesothelium — the lining of the lungs and chest cavity (pleura), the abdominal cavity (peritoneum), and the heart sac (pericardium). There are about 3,300 new cases reported annually. Mesothelioma is caused by exposure to asbestos and can take years to develop. Unfortunately, it is often diagnosed in the later stages, when the cancer has already begun to spread throughout the body, worsening the prognosis. If you think you may be exhibiting mesothelioma symptoms, visit your doctor right away. Mesothelioma moves quickly, and you should too. Early detection and treatment can greatly improve a mesothelioma prognosis.
How Long Can a Person Live With Mesothelioma?
There is no definitive answer for how long a person can live with mesothelioma. The majority of patients diagnosed with mesothelioma live for less than one year. However, every mesothelioma case is unique and may have a different behavior and disease course in different individuals.
Mesothelioma survival statistics can be intimidating, but they don’t always show the full picture. They are not a precise prediction of your life expectancy; rather, they reflect past mesothelioma patients’ outcomes and some of them may be based on data from statistics before the currently available advanced in diagnosis and treatment. General mesothelioma survival statistics often do not take into account specific factors like type (pleural, peritoneal, pericardial), cell type, stage, or the overall health of individual patients. Researchers are working diligently to find better treatment options that may offer patients in earlier stages hope for a cure and patients with advanced mesothelioma more palliative care options to improve the overall quality of life.
Because mesothelioma is so rare, it is important to see a doctor who specializes in the treatment of this particular cancer type. Together, you will be able to determine the best possible treatments options available, tailored to your unique case.
Factors That Affect a Mesothelioma Prognosis
No two mesothelioma cases are the same. However, there are a few major factors that affect a patient’s prognosis. Speak with your doctor to ensure you understand how each factor plays into your personal prognosis.
Type and location of mesothelioma
Mesothelioma is often found in the lining of the lungs (pleural mesothelioma) or the lining of the abdomen (peritoneal mesothelioma). In rare cases, it can develop in the lining around the heart (pericardial mesothelioma) or the testicles. Patients with peritoneal mesothelioma generally have a better prognosis than those with other types of mesothelioma. Conversely, patients with pericardial mesothelioma tend to have the poorest prognosis. This type of mesothelioma is usually diagnosed posthumously, or after the patient’s death.
Mesothelioma tumor cell type
The type of cells that make up a mesothelioma tumor can greatly affect a patient’s prognosis. There are two types of cells: epithelioid and sarcomatoid. Tumors can also contain both cell types, in which case they are called biphasic tumors. Cell type, or the histology of the diagnosis, helps doctors determine prognosis, as well as create an optimal treatment plan. Patients with epithelioid tumors generally have a better prognosis than those with sarcomatoid or biphasic mesothelial tumors, demonstrating a median survival rate of 18–24 months, whereas patients with sarcomatoid tumors survive a median of 4–6 months. Those with biphasic tumors tend to survive an average of 10–15 months depending on the predominant component (sarcomatoid or epithelioid). Epithelioid cells tend to respond better to treatment because they do not metastasize as quickly as sarcomatoid cells.
Stage of mesothelioma
Like other cancer types, mesothelioma is staged from 1 to 4. Early detection greatly increases a patient’s prognosis. However, because of its long latency period and vague symptoms, mesothelioma is generally not detected until later stages when the cancer has already begun to spread. Mesothelioma responds better to traditional treatment options like surgery and chemotherapy in the earlier stages. When it begins to spread, especially reaching the lymphatic system, treatment options become more palliative (providing patient relief rather than attempting to eradicate the cancer) than curative.
In cases where multimodal treatment options are available, such as the combination of surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, and/or immunotherapy, patients have a better prognosis than those patients who have more advanced cases where these treatment options are not available. Some patients may also qualify for clinical trials or experimental treatments that can potentially improve their mesothelioma prognosis. Consult your doctor for more information on prospective clinical trials you may be eligible for.
Your overall health plays a significant role in your prognosis. Healthier patients may be eligible for more impactful, curative treatment options. They will also likely have a stronger immune system, making them more receptive to treatment. It’s important to note that smoking should be avoided, as it can worsen the mesothelioma prognosis.
Studies conducted in 2011 revealed a link between the BAP1 genetic mutation and the development of mesothelioma. Researchers at the University of Hawaii have begun clinical trials targeting the BAP1 gene to better prevent and treat mesothelioma. A recent study suggested better response to platinum based chemotherapy in patients who have mesothelioma and carry a BAP1 germaline mutation.
Demographic factors can also affect your mesothelioma prognosis:
Patients diagnosed with mesothelioma at a younger age tend to have higher survival rates than those diagnosed later in life. This is mainly because they are able to undergo more intensive treatments, such as surgery and chemotherapy. Older patients, especially those with pre-existing conditions, tend to have more difficulty undergoing these treatments. Younger patients also typically have a shorter recovery time.
While mesothelioma is primarily found in Caucasians, studies have shown that black patients diagnosed with mesothelioma have a better prognosis. Of the cases reported, self-identifying black individuals tend to be younger females. However, survival rates are not necessarily higher, as black patients tended not to undergo surgery as treatment as often as white patients. Because mesothelioma is so rare in non-whites, accurate survival rates are not currently available.
Women tend to have a more favorable mesothelioma prognosis than men. The Society of Thoracic Surgeons released a study showing that male patients had a survival rate of 4.5 percent compared to females, who had a survival rate of 13.4 percent. Researchers are unsure of why this is the case, but they believe hormones may be a factor. Research shows it could also be that women are more likely than men to see a doctor as soon as symptoms appear.
Improving a Mesothelioma Prognosis
The type of mesothelioma and stage of diagnosis greatly determine the treatment options available to patients. When curative treatment is a viable option it has the potential to significantly improve a mesothelioma prognosis. Lifestyle changes can also be helpful.
In early stages, while mesothelioma is still localized within the body, doctors are often able to use a multimodal treatment approach with the goal of eradicating the cancer completely. Surgery is often coupled with chemotherapy or radiation for a curative treatment plan.
Unfortunately, as mesothelioma spreads, treatment options become less available and the prognosis worsens. Most mesothelioma patients are diagnosed at stage 3, often ruling out the possibility of resecting the entire tumor through surgery. By the time mesothelioma reaches stage 4, the cancer has spread throughout the body and likely reached the lymphatic system. Traditional treatment options may still be used, but they are generally used as palliative care to relieve patient pain and improve comfort. However, every case is different, and there are ways to improve your mesothelioma prognosis.
When battling a terminal illness, a positive outlook can help your prognosis.
Scientists like Candace Pert, Ph.D., author of Molecules of Emotions, The Science Behind Mind-Body Medicine, have legitimized the healing power hope and positive emotions can have on an ailing body. While a positive attitude is not a cure for cancer, it can certainly improve a patient’s emotional well-being. Upon receiving a cancer diagnosis, it’s important to remember that it can and has been overcome. Many patients have outlived their doctor-provided prognosis.