Mesothelioma is an aggressive cancer that is caused by exposure to asbestos fibers, most often in the workplace. For many with the disease, a mesothelioma diagnosis is a death sentence. Most patients are diagnosed in stage 3 or stage 4 of the disease. At that point, the cancer has often spread too much to give them much hope of a cure or even remission. While mesothelioma is difficult to treat, there are stories out there about people treating the disease and living far longer than doctors expected.
To understand the odds you are facing with a mesothelioma diagnosis, these are the median survival rates for all stages of diagnosis: (NIH.gov)
- Stage 1: Median survival time is 21 months.
- Stage 2: Median survival time is 19 months.
- Stage 3: Median survival time is 16 months.
- Stage 4: Median survival time is 12 months.
To improve your chances of survival, below is important information to be aware of.
The Importance of an Early Diagnosis
By far, the key factor in surviving mesothelioma beyond a year or so is to get an early diagnosis. Even better, if you have been exposed to asbestos or think you have, it is wise to be screened regularly for any type of cancer by your doctor.
Unfortunately, many people who get mesothelioma are not diagnosed until the disease is in its later stages and has spread throughout the body. In many cases, patients were totally unaware they were exposed to the toxic substance and they are shocked 30 or 40 years later to discover they have mesothelioma. The symptoms of the mesothelioma cancer come long after exposure has ended and they may not be serious enough at first to get a diagnosis until the condition is terminal.
To get a diagnosis early, it is critical to be aware if you were ever exposed to asbestos. If you think you worked in an industry where you could have been exposed to asbestos decades ago, being proactive is important. Speak to your doctor about it and watch carefully for any sign of cancer.
Start Aggressive Treatments Immediately
No matter when you have your mesothelioma diagnosis, you should start treatment right away. The sooner you begin to attack the mesothelioma, the better chances of living longer and even beating the cancer. Early and aggressive treatment regimens can reduce the growth of tumors and can sometimes eliminate them entirely.
Aggressive treatment plans give mesothelioma patients the best chances of survival for the longest period of time. For example, patients who suffer from pleural mesothelioma in the lung linings can get a procedure called an extrapleural pneumonectomy. This surgery will take out the entire lung and pleura and any other tissue that could have tumors. Not every patient can get this aggressive of a treatment, but if you can, it is possible to extend your life and possibly beat the cancer.
Generally, the major treatment options for mesothelioma are a combination of the following: (Mayoclinic.org)
- Surgery: The goal is to take out as much of the cancerous tissue as possible if the disease is diagnosed early on. Surgery can also be an option for later stages, if only to provide palliative care to reduce pain by removing fluid from the pleural area.
- Chemotherapy: May be used to reduce the size of mesothelioma tumors or kill them completely. Chemotherapy may also be used to simply reduce pain in later stages of the cancer.
- Radiation: Destroys cancerous cells in a highly targeted fashion. This is the most common type of treatment for people who are in poor health; there are fewer side effects with radiation treatment.
Look Into the HIPEC Treatment
If you have a diagnosis of peritoneal mesothelioma, this is the form of cancer that affects the linings of the abdomen and its various organs. The odds of long term survivability with this form of the disease are higher than with the pleural form. One of the reasons it is possible to survive longer is you can be treated with HIPEC or heated intraperitoneal chemotherapy. This type of treatment has greatly improved survivability for many patients. A 2013 study at Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa found that the median survival rate for this form of mesothelioma for patients who had the HIPEC treatment was 41 months. Those who had a second procedure survived a median of 80 months.
HIPEC usually will be preceded by surgery that attempts to take out as much of the cancer as possible. After that, chemotherapy drugs are heated and are sent into the entire abdominal cavity. The whole region is bathed in heated chemotherapy drugs, which makes the treatment more effective than regular chemotherapy. If you have been diagnosed with this form of the cancer, be sure to check with your doctor if HIPEC could be a good choice for you.
Take Part in Clinical Trials
Clinical trials are set up by medical experts and scientists to gauge the safety and effectiveness of new types of cancer therapy and medications. There are several clinical trials for cancers going on at any one time that involve mesothelioma. The treatments that scientists are trying could be more effective than established therapies, but they also may not work. They also could cause serious side effects that are hard to anticipate.
Joining a mesothelioma clinical trial carries risk because the outcome is unknown; the treatment plan has not been approved by FDA yet, with the benefits outweighing the risks. But a new therapy can potentially be a lifesaver for some patients who are willing to take a risk on an unproven treatment plan. Your doctors can help you to find a clinical trial that may be able to benefit you.
Enhance Your Overall Health
You will have more treatment options for your mesothelioma if you are in good health otherwise. People who do not suffer from other chronic health problems, such as heart disease or diabetes, and those who have a high level of fitness, eat right and do not smoke, will have more options for treatment than those who are in poor health.
Mesothelioma Survival Rates Are Getting Better
While a mesothelioma diagnosis is serious, within the last several years, research on the disease has led to significant advancements in new and novel ways to treat the cancer. Some of the newer technologies and therapies include the study of biomarkers in the blood for an earlier diagnosis, and the possibility of using immunotherapy to treat the disease. Because of these potential advancements, survival rates for mesothelioma have improved somewhat in the past decade.
It is hoped as cancer research continues and medical professionals continue to enhance treatment options that survival rates will continue to get better each year.
If you have been diagnosed with mesothelioma by a doctor, you should work with your medical professional to develop the most aggressive treatment plan considering your specific diagnosis and overall health. It also is recommended to consult with an experienced mesothelioma attorney; if you can prove that a previous employer or other entity exposed you to asbestos fibers, you could be entitled to significant compensation. That money could be extremely useful to pay for your medical bills and to extend your life as much as possible.
- Do We Need a Revised Staging System for Malignant Pleural Mesothelioma? (2012). Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3741785/
- Mesothelioma Diagnosis and Treatment. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/mesothelioma/diagnosis-treatment/drc-20375028