Mesothelioma is a serious cancer that, although latent in the body for usually decades before symptoms become apparent, once mesothelioma symptoms are apparent and a diagnosis is reached, patients often face a short mesothelioma life expectancy. The good news is that there are some long-term survivors of mesothelioma, and their cases may help researchers to unlock the clues that will one day help to provide a mesothelioma cure for this life-threatening illness.
In 2006, at the young age of 36, Heather Von St. James was diagnosed with mesothelioma, just three months after giving birth to her daughter, Lily Rose. At first the doctors found it difficult to believe that she did have mesothelioma because that form of asbestos cancer was rarely found in women her age. Repeated tests and biopsies, however, confirmed the original diagnosis. The conventional treatment options presented to Heather and her husband, Cameron, came with an estimated life expectancy of only 5 years. A riskier option involving the surgical removal of her lung and diaphragm was also presented to the couple. It was a fairly new procedure called an extrapleural pneumonectomy that was pioneered by Dr. David Sugarbaker of The Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. Heather and her husband decided to take the riskier route knowing that it held the most promise for a cancer-free life. With strong faith, support from a host of family and friends and a vibrant sense of humor, Heather bravely set out on a multi-month course of cancer treatment. Today, 5 years later, she remains cancer free and joyfully lives to share her message of hope and survival with other mesothelioma sufferers.
Paul Kraus, a native of Australia, is another courageous mesothelioma survivor. Asbestos is prevalent in Australia and as a result, the country suffers from some of the highest rates of mesothelioma in the world. Mr. Kraus was exposed as a youth on a summer job he took in 1962. The cancer was latent until 1997, when he was diagnosed. However, through a series of alternative mesothelioma treatments, changes to diet, as well as meditation, Mr. Kraus has caused the cancer to not progress, and has lived with the disease to the current day of 2009. Mr. Kraus discovered that cancer cells do not thrive in an oxygen-rich environment, and thus he undergoes ozone therapy on a regular basis. Ozone is oxygen with one extra atom attached to the molecule. His diet includes nutrient-rich foods that help the body remove toxins and prevent the buildup of new ones. His positive outlook on living is also part of his care regimen that appears to be having excellent results in terms of controlling his cancer.
Other survivors of mesothelioma were described in Cancer Monthly's April 2007 issue. Three patients took part in treatments that ranged from mesothelioma surgery to minimal radiation, and these individuals lived for many years, up to fourteen years, after being diagnosed with mesothelioma.
Treatments that Survivors Have Used
What Paul Kraus and now oncology researchers have come to understand is that the body's immune system plays a part in mesothelioma survival rates. A Swiss study indicates that the when asbestos fibers are present in the lung tissue, the immune system, over the decades of time the disease is latent, eventually becomes fatigued trying to fight them off. Another immune system issue is cell identification. Because the body produces the cancer cells, pathogen-attacking white-blood cells do not fight the cancer cells because they do not see them as "foreign invaders." However, research is underway to figure out how to train the immune system to fight the cancer cells.
What is clear is that the earlier any type of cancer is detected and then treated, including mesothelioma, the better chance that it can be cured. Because of the typical mesothelioma latency period mesothelioma is often quite advanced by the time of diagnosis. A Japanese company has recently developed a blood test that can identify protein markers that are in high levels in the blood, as an early warning sign that mesothelioma cancer may be present, offering hope for earlier detection of this disease.
A new treatment option may be found in mesothelin. When combined with recombinant "immunotoxins," the mesothelin is sent back to the mesothelium to combat the cancer cells there, forcing them to die.
As Paul Kraus and other long-time mesothelioma survivors understand, meditation, a positive mental outlook, and stress reduction all seem to play a part in these survivors' longevity. Common in Eastern medical traditions but a fairly new idea in the West, the mind-body connection, along with alternative treatments and appropriate nutrition all play a role in keeping malignant mesothelioma under control.
Hassan, R. "Mesothelin Targeted Cancer Immunotherapy." European Journal of Cancer, August 2007.
Kraus, Paul. Surviving Mesothelioma and Other Cancers: A Patient's Guide. (Raleigh: Cancer Monthly, 2005)
Mitchell, Steve. "Clearing the Air Over Asbestos." ScienceNOW Daily News, 10 April 2008.
Staff. "Mesothelioma and the Immune System." Cancer Monthly, April 2007.