What Is Mesothelioma?
Mesothelioma is 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. This disease is caused by exposure to asbestos and can take years to develop. Unfortunately, it is often diagnosed in the later stages, when tumors have already begun to spread throughout the body, worsening the prognosis. If you think you may be exhibiting any symptoms, visit your doctor right away. Mesothelioma moves quickly, and you should too. Early detection and treatment can greatly improve a prognosis.
Diagnosed with mesothelioma? Learn how to fight this life-altering disease.
How Long Can a Person Live With Mesothelioma?
There is no definitive answer for how long a person can live with this disease. A majority of patients diagnosed with mesothelioma live for less than one year. However, every case is unique and may have 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 patients’ outcomes. Additionally, some of these outcomes may be based on data from statistics before the currently available advancements in diagnosis and treatment. General mesothelioma survival statistics often do not take into account specific factors like location (pleura, peritoneum, or pericardium), cell type, stage, or the overall health of individual patients.
Currently, researchers are working diligently to find better treatment options. Some for offering patients in earlier stages curative help and others that can serve patients with advanced mesothelioma more palliative options to improve their overall quality of life.
Because this disease is scarce, it’s 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 treatment options available, tailored to your unique case.
Factors That Affect a 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 the Tumors
Mesothelioma is often found in the lining of the lungs, abdomen, or heart. In even more rare cases, it’s been found in the testicles. Patients with tumors in the abdomen region generally have a better prognosis than those with tumors in other sites. Conversely, patients with tumors in the lining of the heart tend to have the poorest prognosis. This type of mesothelioma is usually diagnosed posthumously or after the patient’s death.
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, help 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. Patients with sarcomatoid tumors survive a median of 4–6 months and those with biphasic tumors tend to survive an average of 10–15 months depending on whether it’s a sarcomatoid or epithelioid cell type. Epithelioid cells tend to respond better to treatment because they do not metastasize (grow and spread) as quickly as sarcomatoid cells.
Stage of Disease
Like some 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, this illness is generally not detected until later stages when it has already begun to spread. This type of cancer 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.
Treatment Options Available
In cases where multimodal treatment options are available, such as the combination of surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, and/or immunotherapy, patients tend to have a better prognosis than those who have more advanced cases and fewer treatment options. 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. Smoking should be avoided, as it can worsen the results.
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 the disease. A recent study suggested a better response to platinum-based chemotherapy in patients who have mesothelioma and carry a BAP1 germline mutation.
Demographic Factors Can Also Affect a 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. 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 African American and black patients diagnosed with the illness generally 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 to not undergo surgery as often as white patients. Because this cancer is so rare in non-whites, accurate survival rates are not currently available.
Women tend to have more favorable results 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 tumors are 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 the illness 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 it reaches stage 4, tumors have 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.
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.
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