Mesothelioma is an aggressive cancer caused by asbestos exposure. It usually affects the lining of the lungs, but also can affect the membranes around the heart or abdominal organs. Mesothelioma is diagnosed only in approximately 3,000 people per year but is one of the hardest to treat cancers.
The life expectancy for a mesothelioma patient depends on many factors, one of which is the cell type. Below is more information about epithelioid mesothelioma, prognosis, symptoms, and more.
Three Mesothelioma Cell Types
There are three types of mesothelioma cells: epithelial, sarcomatoid, and biphasic.
Epithelial cells protect and surround our organs. When they are affected by asbestos cancer, it is easier to remove them with surgery or eliminate them with chemotherapy or radiation.
Epithelial mesothelioma is the cell type for approximately 70% of mesothelioma cases. Epithelial-type mesothelioma is less aggressive than other types and does not spread as fast to distant parts of the body. It is estimated that 50% of pleural (lung) mesothelioma is epithelioid. Epithelial-type tumors usually are easier to remove with surgery, and life expectancy is better than with other cell types.
Sarcomatoid mesothelioma is rarer, comprising approximately 20% of cases. These cancerous cells are harder to discern from healthy cells and spread quickly. This type of cancer is resistant to treatment, and the prognosis is poor. Twenty percent of pleural mesothelioma is sarcomatoid and just 1% of peritoneal or abdominal mesothelioma is this cell type. (Cancer.net).
Biphasic mesothelioma is comprised of both epithelial and sarcomatoid cells. Prognosis depends on which cell type is more numerous. If the patient has more epithelioid cells, the prognosis is usually better. Approximately 30% of pleural mesothelioma cases are biphasic. (NIH.gov).
How Asbestos Exposure Causes Epithelioid Mesothelioma
All types of mesothelioma are usually caused by extended exposure to asbestos. When asbestos is disturbed, billions of microscopic asbestos fibers are released in the air. If those fibers are breathed into the lungs or swallowed, they can lodge in the delicate linings surrounding our organs. Over the years, the body will try to expel the fibers, but some are permanently stuck in the sensitive tissue. Genetic mutation can occur and lead to mesothelioma.
Epithelial-type mesothelioma occurs mostly in men who worked for years in manufacturing, heavy industry, or the military. Asbestos exposure was routine in the following professions until as late as the 1980s:
- Floor or ceiling work
- Powerhouse work
Even if you have not been exposed to asbestos for decades, you still can develop cancer, so communicate regularly with your doctor and get annual medical exams.
How Epithelioid Mesothelioma Is Diagnosed
Epithelial-type mesothelioma is diagnosed with a biopsy and imaging scans, such as a CT or MRI. In a biopsy, a small sample of the tumor is removed from the body. Your pathologist will use special stains on the sample to determine if it is mesothelioma and which type it is. (Cancer.org)
Fortunately, epithelial mesothelioma grows slower and is easier to treat than other types. It is possible for your doctor to treat this cancer with surgery to remove as much of the tumors as possible. Surgery is often followed by chemotherapy or radiation to kill any remaining cancer cells.
Whichever cell type of pleural (lung) mesothelioma you have, you should talk to your doctor if you have any of these symptoms:
- Pain in your back or lower chest that will not go away
- Dry cough
- Extreme fatigue
- Sudden weight loss unrelated to diet or exercise
- Trouble swallowing
- Difficulty and pain taking a deep breath
- In the case of peritoneal (abdominal) mesothelioma – abdominal swelling
Prognosis for Epithelioid Mesothelioma
The prognosis for epithelioid mesothelioma depends on many factors. First, early detection of any cancer will extend your life. Research dollars have been spent to study ways to diagnose mesothelioma sooner.
For instance, the Mesomark assay is a new blood test that measures a critical biomarker that releases epithelioid mesothelioma cells into your bloodstream. The biomarker is called Soluble Mesothelin-Related Peptides (SMRP) and can be high for years before symptoms appear.
Mesothelioma life expectancy can be estimated by reviewing published survival rates. The standard five-year survival rate tells us the percentage of people with the same type and stage of asbestos cancer who are still alive five years after diagnosis.
The American Cancer Society reports the five-year survival rates for all types of mesothelioma (including epithelioid and sarcomatoid-types) based on stage: (Cancer.org)
- Stage I: 21 months
- Stage II: 19 months
- Stage III: 16 months
- Stage IV: 12 months
The Abramson Cancer Center reports the overall mesothelioma survival rate is four to 18 months after diagnosis. But there are patients who have lived for more than 10 years. The current five-year survival rate for all stages of mesothelioma is only 10 months (See stage 4 mesothelioma symptoms). (Pennmedicine.org). But this number is higher than a decade ago and much higher than 30 years ago. Mesothelioma is better understood and treated today, so there is hope.
Other factors that affect the prognosis for epithelioid mesothelioma include:
- Diagnosis year
Epithelioid mesothelioma is the most common form of asbestos cancer. While life expectancy with mesothelioma is generally poor, the outlook is better for those with this type of asbestos cancer. It grows more slowly than other types, and cancer cells are more easily distinguishable.
It is essential to talk to your healthcare provider if you know you were exposed to asbestos at any time in your life. All types of mesothelioma can take up to 40 years to develop, so you need to keep an eye on your health if you ever were exposed to the toxic mineral.
It also is recommended to speak to a mesothelioma attorney if you have been diagnosed with epithelioid mesothelioma. It is possible a company you worked for exposed you to asbestos. Many companies knew their employees were being exposed yet continued to use products containing asbestos. You could be entitled to mesothelioma cancer compensation for your medical bills, pain and suffering, and lost earnings.