What factors help determine a mesothelioma prognosis?
When an individual is diagnosed with mesothelioma, one of the first questions they will have is “How long do I have to live?” This is a scary question - and a hard one to ask - but one for which most cancer patients will eventually seek an answer.
It is very difficult for oncologists and members of a patient’s medical team to give a definitive answer to this query. Indeed, every case is different and cancer can be an unpredictable disease. Sometimes, cases that look hopeless turn out to be not so bleak. In other cases, cancers that don’t look so bad progress quickly and result in an untimely death.
Malignant mesothelioma is extremely aggressive and has a long latency period. Hence, cases are usually not detected until the disease has reached the advanced stages of cancer. As a result the prognosis for such patients is often not favorable; the mesothelioma survival rate following diagnosis is usually just a year or two. That doesn’t mean, however, that there won’t be exceptions, or that the outlook will not improve in years to come, especially as more and better treatments are developed. Overall, the prognosis has been improving for mesothelioma patients over these past few decades.
Currently, a number of different issues determine the mesothelioma patient’s prognosis. These include:
Type - Mesothelioma classified as one of three types, depending on the tissues involved. The epithelial type accounts for about 50 percent of all cases, sarcomatoid mesothelioma is seen in 15 percent of diagnosed patients, and 35% have the mixed type of the disease. Those with epithelial mesothelioma have a better survival rate than the other types.
Location - Mesothelioma is also classified on the basis of location. For example, pleural mesothelioma, which attacks the lining of the lung, is the most common, accounting for approximately 8o percent of all cases. Those with this type of cancer have the best rate of survival. Peritoneal mesothelioma, found in the lining of the abdomen, is the next most common and is diagnosed in about 10 -15 percent of mesothelioma victims. It is generally harder to treat. Less common types are very difficult to treat, including pericardial and testicular mesothelioma.
Stage of the disease - The prognosis for mesothelioma cancer depends on how early the disease is diagnosed and how soon treatment can begin. Because of the disease’s extended latency period, it is often not diagnosed until it has reached Stage 3 or 4, when mesothelioma symptoms finally appear. Sadly, many of these symptoms are common to a wide range of respiratory diseases including many that are less serious, like the flu or pneumonia. This often results in misdiagnosis.
Metastasis - When a mesothelioma diagnosis is finally made, oncologists will often find that the cancer has spread - or “metastasized” - from the location of the primary tumor - usually the pleura - to other parts of the body, often to the nearby organs as well as the lymph nodes. The extent of the metastases will determine what type of treatment is recommended as well as the prognosis.
General health of the patient - Simply put, younger and stronger patients with mesothelioma live longer than those of advanced age who have extant health problems. Seniors are often dealing with issues like heart disease, diabetes, and high blood pressure, making mesothelioma surgery as well as traditional cancer treatments much more risky and severely limiting treatment options.
Additional Mesothelioma Prognosis Factors
Life expectancy for those diagnosed with malignant mesothelioma depends on a number of factors including, general patient health, cancer stage at diagnosis, and the eligibility of the patient for certain treatment options. Those diagnosed with early stage cancer and in generally good health will have a more favorable prognosis than those diagnosed with later-stage disease.
Most survival rates for cancer are quoted in regards to what is commonly known as the relative five-year survival rate. This indicates the number of patients who are still alive five years after they are diagnosed with the disease. Currently, the five-year survival rate for mesothelioma victims is approximately 10 percent. Though this is a very disappointing statistic, it represents a modest improvement from the numbers seen 10 years ago and is much higher than it was 20-30 years ago.
The current one-year survival rate for mesothelioma patients is about 40 percent. This has also increased significantly in the last 10 years. Unfortunately, however, the prognosis for most mesothelioma patients remains poor overall. Many still die less than a year after diagnosis, with the average survival rate being 10-11 months, according to the American Cancer Association.
Mesothelioma is one of the most aggressive types of cancer and can quickly metastasize from its origin into the lungs, abdominal cavity, and lymph nodes. As a result, very few mesothelioma patients go into remission. However, if treated properly and early enough, many patients have been able to extend survival rates long beyond previous expectations. Treatment options include surgical resection, chemotherapy, and mesothelioma radiation.
While there is currently no cure for mesothelioma, many patients have had success in managing their cancer with traditional treatments like chemotherapy and surgical methods. Some patients diagnosed with mesothelioma have survived many years after what was an initially unfavorable prognosis.
Improving the Mesothelioma Prognosis
During the last decade, the plight of mesothelioma sufferers has gained more attention and more research dollars have been funneled towards the study of this disease and the discovery of new and novel drugs and treatments to provide more hope of a better prognosis for the mesothelioma sufferer.
Scientists have been working on new tests that strive to diagnose the disease at an earlier stage. For example, the Mesomark® assay is a simple blood test that measures the rate of Soluble Mesothelin-Related Peptides (SMRP) in the blood. This biomarker is released by mesothelioma cells into the bloodstream and SMRP can be elevated for many years before symptoms appear and an actual diagnosis of the disease is made.
Treatments with new chemotherapy drugs like Alimta® and procedures that deliver more targeted radiation to the tumor have also helped to add to a mesothelioma patient’s life expectancy. In addition, experimental treatments such as immunotherapy, gene therapy, and photodynamic therapy continue to be tested as potential treatment options.
Each new step in the field of mesothelioma research improves the mesothelioma prognosis little by little and provides additional hope for mesothelioma-affected individuals and their loved ones.