Mesothelioma is an aggressive cancer caused by asbestos exposure. It affects the lungs, heart, abdominal organs, and/or testicles. Prognosis is generally poor, but how long you live depends on many factors, including the cell type of the disease.
Below is more information about the sarcomatoid variety of mesothelioma, what causes it, symptoms, and prognosis.
Three Types of Mesothelioma Cells
There are three types of mesothelioma cells: sarcomatoid, epithelial, and biphasic.
Sarcomatoid mesothelioma is the rarest cell type, with approximately 20% of cases involving these cells. Unfortunately, it is the most resistant to treatment and is an aggressive form of mesothelioma. Approximately 20% of pleural (lung) mesothelioma tumors are sarcomatoid, and only 1% of peritoneal (abdominal) mesothelioma are of this variety. (Cancer.net).
Most sarcomatoid mesotheliomas occur in the lungs (pleural). Few cases occur in the abdomen, heart, or testicles.
Epithelial mesothelioma comprises about 70% of all mesothelioma cases. This cell type has the best prognosis. It is usually less aggressive and does not spread to other parts of the body as quickly as sarcomatoid and biphasic types. Approximately 50% of pleural mesothelioma is epithelioid. Tumors with this type of cell are easier to remove by surgery, so people with this cell type have a better prognosis.
Biphasic mesothelioma contains both epithelial and sarcomatoid cells. Prognosis depends on which cell type is most dominant. If you have more epithelioid cells, your prognosis is usually better. Approximately 30% of pleural mesothelioma is the biphasic cell type, and 25% of peritoneal mesothelioma. (NIH.gov).
How Sarcomatoid Mesothelioma Is Diagnosed
This cell type of mesothelioma is diagnosed by your doctor with a biopsy. A biopsy is where a small amount of tumor tissue is removed. A pathologist uses immunohistochemical stains on the tumor sample to determine whether or not the cancer is the sarcomatoid variety or another type.
This cell type of mesothelioma is more challenging to diagnosed and can be confused with other health conditions, such as sarcomas and chronic fibrous pleuritis. If the cancer is confused with another disease, this can affect your prognosis.
Whether your cancer is the sarcomatoid, epithelial, or biphasic variety, the symptoms of pleural mesothelioma are similar: (Cancer.org)
- Persistent pain in the lower back or chest
- Trouble breathing
- Constant dry cough
- Unexplained, sudden weight loss
- Difficulty swallowing
- Swelling in face or arms
If you have a history of asbestos exposure and have any of the above symptoms, talk to your healthcare professional immediately.
How Asbestos Exposure Causes Sarcomatoid Mesothelioma
All cell types of mesothelioma are almost always caused by asbestos exposure. Microscopic asbestos fibers are breathed into the lungs or swallowed. With repeated exposure, some of these tiny, sharp fibers stay lodged in the lungs. After decades pass, some people have changes in their DNA that causes mesothelioma to form in the lungs, abdomen, heart, or testicles.
Sarcomatoid mesothelioma happens most often in men, with most of them exposed during their employment in manufacturing or heavy industry. Asbestos exposure often occurred in these professions:
- Construction worker
- Floor or ceiling work
- Powerhouse worker
While most people who are exposed to asbestos never develop cancer, approximately 3,000 new cases are diagnosed per year in the United States.
Prognosis for Sarcomatoid Mesothelioma
Survival rates give us an idea of the percentage of people with the same type, stage, and cell type of mesothelioma who live a certain amount of time (typically five years) after they were diagnosed. While this information will not tell us exactly how long a person will live, it will give a better idea of what the prognosis is. (Cancer.org).
According to Cancer.org, the five-year survival rates for malignant pleural mesothelioma patients (all cell types) depends on whether the cancer is localized to one area, spread to one region of the body, or spread to many parts of the body. How far cancer has spread indicates whether the disease is in Stage I, II, III, or IV:
- Localized: 18%
- Regional: 11%
- Distant: 7%
The stage the asbestos cancer is a vital factor in determining prognosis and treatment options for all cell types. Generally, most stage I and some stages II and III pleural mesotheliomas can be treated with surgery and/or chemotherapy, but sarcomatoid mesothelioma is harder to treat and has a worse prognosis than other cell types. See stage 4 mesothelioma symptoms.
Studies of sarcomatoid mesothelioma patients show a poor prognosis with a life expectancy from one to 30 months. A review of dozens of clinical trials involving sarcomatoid mesothelioma patients determined only 14% responded to treatment, compared to 22% with other cell types. (NIH.gov). Prognosis also depends on whether the cancer is in the lung lining, heart, or abdominal organs.
Sarcomatoid mesothelioma is one of the rarest types of asbestos cancer. The prognosis is worse than epithelial-type mesothelioma. But if the disease is diagnosed in stage I, your chances of living longer rise. Therefore it is vital that you talk to your doctor about any asbestos exposure you are aware of in your work history.