Mesothelioma is rare cancer caused by asbestos exposure. It affects the mesothelial cells and accounts for fewer than 1% of all cancers, with about 3,000 new cases diagnosed annually (NIH.gov). Unfortunately, mesothelioma is aggressive cancer, and the prognosis is poor for most patients. Pleural mesothelioma is the most common type of the disease, comprising 80% of cases.
If you have been diagnosed with pleural mesothelioma, you probably are wondering what your life expectancy is. While this cannot be determined definitively, ample research has been conducted on this subject. Research generally shows that life expectancy with pleural mesothelioma, while low, is getting better as treatment and detection improve.
Below is more information about life expectancy and prognosis for pleural mesothelioma.
What Is Pleural Mesothelioma?
Pleural mesothelioma is caused by asbestos exposure. Diffuse tumors spread in the lining of the lungs and chest cavity. Pleural mesothelioma is the most common form of the disease and makes up 80% of all cases. (Mayoclinic.com)
It can take up to 50 years after exposure to asbestos for a person to develop pleural mesothelioma. Sadly, most patients are not diagnosed until they are in the last stages of the disease, and their life expectancy is usually measured in months.
Because early detection is crucial to extend life expectancy, you should be on guard for symptoms of pleural mesothelioma if you were exposed to asbestos.
Symptoms of pleural mesothelioma include:
- Regular pain in the chest or lower back
- Shortness of breath
- Difficulty swallowing
- Fluid build up, making it difficult to breathe
- Sudden weight loss
- Swelling in face and arms
- Extreme fatigue
How to Determine Mesothelioma Life Expectancy
There are several critical variables that determine your life expectancy with pleural mesothelioma: (Pennmedicine.org)
- Type: Pleural mesothelioma is divided into three types of cells, depending on the tissues involved. These are epithelial, sarcomatoid, and biphasic. The most common form is epithelial mesothelioma and represents 50% of cases. Epithelial mesothelioma has a better life expectancy than the other types.
- Location: Pleural mesothelioma occurs in the lung lining and comprises 75% of all asbestos cancer. People with pleural mesothelioma usually have the best life expectancy. Peritoneal mesothelioma that occurs in the abdomen is harder to treat, and life expectancy is lower.
- Stage of disease: The best way to boost life expectancy with pleural mesothelioma is to catch it early. But common symptoms of pleural mesothelioma resemble less serious illnesses, and misdiagnosis is common. By the time the cancer is in stage III or IV, treatment is too late, and the patient usually lives only months.
- Metastasis: After the diagnosis of cancer has been made, the doctor may discover cancer has spread to other areas of the body. How much cancer has metastisized and where will influence life expectancy.
- The health of patient: The younger and stronger a patient is, the longer they can live with cancer. Patients who have serious pre-existing health problems such as diabetes, heart disease or high blood pressure could have higher risks with mesothelioma treatments, such as surgery or chemotherapy.
Pleural Mesothelioma Survival Rate
Survival rates give us an idea of what percentage of patients with the same type and stage of mesothelioma will still be alive after a certain time (five years, usually). This information does not tell you how long you will live, but it gives you a better idea of what to expect as your treatment progresses. (Cancer.org).
The American Cancer Society uses information from the SEER database that is kept by the National Cancer Institute to give us statistics about survivability for many types of cancer.
The SEER database stores information about five-year relative survival rates for pleural mesothelioma in the US, based on how far cancer has spread. The database groups the diseases into these stages:
- Localized: Cancer is only in the pleura.
- Regional: Cancer spread to nearby body parts, including the lymph nodes.
- Distant: Cancer has spread to distant body parts such as the bones, liver, or brain.
Five-year survival rates for pleural mesothelioma patients according to the SEER database are:
- Localized: 18%
- Regional: 11%
- Distant: 7%
Understanding the Numbers
- The above numbers apply to the cancer stage when it was first diagnosed. They are not applicable if the cancer grows, spreads or returns after treatment.
- The numbers do not take all factors into account: Survival rates are grouped according to how far the disease has spread, but age, overall health, type of cancer, and more are factors that affect life expectancy.
- People diagnosed with pleural mesothelioma today could have a better life expectancy. Treatments and detection are improving every year, so you could live longer than these numbers suggest.
The pleural mesothelioma survival rate is usually four to 18 months after diagnosis, but there are a few patients who have lived with the disease for more than 10 years. The current five-year survival rate for all mesothelioma types is only 10 percent. But note this number is higher than a decade ago and much higher than 30 years ago. Treatment and understanding of the disease are improving, leading to longer life expectancy.
Improving Mesothelioma Life Expectancy
As noted above, early detection of pleural mesothelioma improves life expectancy. That is why millions of research dollars are spent on finding better ways to find the disease at Stage I or II.
For example, the Mesomark assay is a blood test that measures the Soluble Mesothelin-Related Peptides (SMRP) biomarker that is released into the blood when mesothelioma cells are growing. This biomarker can be high for years before you develop cancer symptoms. Early diagnosis of pleural mesothelioma can lead to life expectancy that is years longer.
The earlier that pleural mesothelioma is detected, the longer you can expect to live. If you have a history of asbestos exposure, stay in close communication with your healthcare provider. He can watch for signs of the disease during your annual checkups.
If you have been diagnosed with pleural mesothelioma, you could be entitled to compensation for your injuries. Talk to an experienced mesothelioma attorney for more information.