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Mesothelioma is an aggressive cancer, known to have an extremely bleak prognosis. Diagnosis can be jarring, leaving patients with the difficult decision of whether or not to pursue treatment. Mesothelioma life expectancy varies greatly, but what does it look like when treatment is denied?
What Causes Mesothelioma?
This extremely aggressive type of cancer is caused by asbestos exposure, although other factors have been shown to increase chances of developing the cancer. Asbestos exposure commonly occurs in the workplace, but has also taken place in living quarters, schools, and other environments. Symptoms typically take 20 – 50 years to appear and can mimic other diseases, often prolonging diagnosis. As a result, many people who have been diagnosed with mesothelioma are choosing to file lawsuits against former employers as they discover that they have been exposed to asbestos while on the job.
Factors Influencing Treatment
As with any type of cancer, a plethora of factors influence prognosis. The individual’s age is one piece to consider and can affect how well he or she might respond to chemotherapy treatments. Overall health is another consideration. Is the patient in good health or has he or she been dealing with other health concerns? Other risk factors, such as smoking cigarettes, can also decrease average life expectancy. A patient’s prognosis also depends on the nature of his or her mesothelioma diagnosis, including location and cell type, as well as stage classification.
Symptoms and manifestation of the cancer differ based on the type of mesothelioma. These types include pleural mesothelioma, peritoneal mesothelioma, and pericardial mesothelioma. Pericardial mesothelioma has the worst prognosis of all three major types, whereas the prognosis for peritoneal mesothelioma has been improving in recent years due to newer treatments like hyperthermic intraperitoneal chemotherapy.
The three basic cell types include epithelioid, biphasic, and sarcomatoid. Each cell type has a different growth and spread rate, which affect mesothelioma life expectancy. Epithelioid cells respond positively to treatment, as they grow fast but spread slowly. Biphasic cell growth and spread rates are harder to predict, which leads to a highly varied prognosis. Sarcomatoid cells are the hardest cancer cells to fight, with an aggressive growth and spread rate. Determining cell type helps physicians figure out the best treatment plan for the cancer patient.
Stages of Mesothelioma and Treatment Options
Staging is another important component to determining estimated life expectancy. Mesothelioma is classified into four major stages. Early detection is ideal for a longer life expectancy, but many patients are faced with late detection and therefore a narrower range of cancer treatment options.
Early stages allow for more aggressive treatments, while stages 3 and 4 limit what the body can handle. Stage 1 typically involves surgery with the option for chemotherapy, and radiation, while stage 2 also presents options for surgery, chemo, and radiotherapy. Some mesothelioma doctors might also recommend multimodality treatments, which has been proven to help extend life expectancies for some patients, incorporating surgery, chemotherapy, radiotherapy, and some form of surgery.
Stages 3 and 4 become more complicated as the disease has spread to vital organs or the lymphatic system. Patients facing stage 3 mesothelioma often focus on palliative treatments to maintain a high quality of life. Stage 4 mesothelioma has the most problematic prognosis with a primary treatment focus on pain management. Hospice is a popular option for patients in the late stages to rely on for comfort and care in their home with the option for specialized clinical trials.
Average Lifespan of Mesothelioma Cases
Not many cases of mesothelioma are caught at stage 1. Based on previous survival statistics, those with early detection face an average lifespan of around 21 months or longer. Gender, age, health, and other risk factors can lessen or extend this estimate. Left untreated, some patients have lived past a year, others less than 6 months.
For stage 2 patients, survival rate is typically 19 months. Stage 3 patients face an average lifespan of 16 months, and stage 4 typically see 12 months. A mere 9% of diagnosed individuals survive for more than 5 years.
Ultimately, prognosis is going to vary from patient to patient as physicians take all important factors into account. While treatment can extend life expectancies, it’s ultimately up to the patient to determine what path he or she would like to take.
Behind the Choice to Decline Mesothelioma Treatment
An overall poor prognosis leaves many mesothelioma patients deciding to not pursue treatment. Those of old age, poor health, or in the later stages may be more likely to go this route, especially if they don’t want to face the symptoms of chemotherapy and radiation therapy. In some cases, their bodies may not be able to withstand the treatments, leading to a better quality of life without.
Cancer patients going through treatment often require care as they recover. Some might not have access to such care or prefer independent living. In addition, treatment can also become extremely costly. Hospital bills, caregiver assistance, medication, and other costs can add up quickly. Patients considering treatment may qualify for financial assistance to help combat the steep fees.
In the event that the patient decides to forgo treatment, palliative care becomes the primary focus. From pain medication to support groups, there are ways that patients to stay comfortable and maintain a high quality of life after their diagnosis.
Ultimately it is the patient’s choice whether or not to pursue treatment. There are many resources available to help understand mesothelioma treatment options, the potential for financial help, as well as legal help. Equipped with these resources, as well as with advice from loved ones, physicians, and fellow mesothelioma patients, each individual can make the best choice for living his or her best life.
Despite the poor prognosis of mesothelioma, there is hope in the stories of survivors and through emerging studies and clinical trials of cancer research. As with any cancer, new treatment options are constantly emerging and being researched in the attempt to find a cure, while patients are sharing their mesothelioma survival stories, battles, and successes to spread awareness and positivity to those diagnosed with mesothelioma or to those with a loved one recently diagnosed.