Once a patient is diagnosed with mesothelioma the question of prognosis will naturally arise. Like most cancers, the prognosis for this disease often depends on how early it is diagnosed and how aggressively it is treated.
It is often very difficult for oncologists to provide definitive answers regarding the likely course of the disease. Although in general the prognosis of mesothelioma is poor, many factors come into play and long-term mesothelioma survivors do exist.
Patients who come to Penn Medicine for mesothelioma treatment are in good hands. The physicians and teams at Penn have had a level of experience and training that is unparalleled in the region.
Determining a Mesothelioma Prognosis
A number of variables determine a mesothelioma patient's prognosis. These include:
- Type – Malignant mesothelioma is generally divided into three cell type categories depending on the tissues involved. The three types are epithelial, sarcomatoid and biphasic, also known as mixed type. The most common type is epithelial mesothelioma and accounts for approximately 50 percent of all cases. Epithelial mesothelioma has a better survival rate than the other two types.
- Location – Mesothelioma is also classified by location. Pleural mesothelioma occurs in the lining of the lung and accounts for approximately 75 percent of all cases. Those with this type of cancer have the best rate of survival. The less common, peritoneal mesothelioma, is found in the lining of the abdomen, and is generally harder to treat. Less common types are very difficult to treat, including pericardial and testicular mesothelioma.
- Stage of the disease – Early diagnosis and treatment of mesothelioma results in a better prognosis. Unfortunately, many symptoms of mesothelioma are very similar to less serious disease resulting in misdiagnosis. Mesothelioma is often times not diagnosed until it has already reached later stages of the disease.
- Metastasis – Once diagnosis of mesothelioma is finally made, oncologists will often find that the cancer has spread – or metastasized – from the location of the primary tumor. The extent of the metastases and the location where it has occurred will determine what type of treatment is recommended as well as the prognosis.
- General health of the patient – Like most other illness and disease, younger and stronger patients with mesothelioma live longer than those of advanced age who may already be dealing with multiple health issues. Patients with pre-existing health issues such as heart disease, diabetes and high blood pressure may face increased risk of mesothelioma surgery and other traditional cancer treatments such as chemotherapy and radiation. Additionally, non-smokers often have a better prognosis than patients who smoke.
Additional Mesothelioma Prognosis Factors
Over 2,000 cases of mesothelioma are diagnosed in the United States each year. Although there is no cure for mesothelioma, treatment options are improving as the disease becomes better understood.
- Mesothelioma Life Expectancy – Life expectancy for those diagnosed with malignant mesothelioma depends on a number of factors including, type and location of the disease, stage at diagnosis, general patient health, and treatment options. Those diagnosed early and in good health will have a more favorable prognosis than those diagnosed with later-stage disease.
- Mesothelioma Survival Rate – The mesothelioma survival rates is typically 4–18 months after diagnosis, but there have been patients diagnosed with mesothelioma who have lived longer than 10 years. The current five-year survival rate for the disease is just 10 percent. It's important to note that this number is higher than it was 10 years ago and much higher than it was 20–30 years ago. As mesothelioma is better understood diagnosis and treatment improves.
- Mesothelioma Remission – Although very few mesothelioma patients go into remission, many patients have been able to extend survival rates long beyond previous expectations with early and effective treatment.
- Mesothelioma Survivors – While there is no cure for mesothelioma, many patients have had success reducing their symptoms by coupling traditional treatments with alternative treatment options such as optimal nutrition, body-stress reduction techniques and palliative therapies. Some patients diagnosed with mesothelioma have survived many years after what was initially an unfavorable prognosis.
Improving the Mesothelioma Prognosis
Early detection greatly increases the prognosis of mesothelioma. For this reason research dollars have been dedicated towards studying ways to diagnose the disease at an earlier stage. For example, the Mesomark® assay is a simple blood test that measures a biomarker that is released by mesothelioma cells into the bloodstream. This biomarker, called Soluble Mesothelin-Related Peptides (SMRP), can be elevated for many years before symptoms appear and an actual diagnosis of the disease is made. This potential for early diagnosis could save many lives.
Scientists have also focused on new drugs and treatments to provide hope of a better prognosis for mesothelioma. New chemotherapy drugs and procedures that deliver more targeted radiation to the tumor have increased the life span of those with mesothelioma over the last decade.
Additionally, experimental treatments such as immunotherapy, gene therapy, and photodynamic therapy have shown some success in treating mesothelioma.
If you have been diagnosed with mesothelioma and have questions about the many mesothelioma treatment options available at Penn Medicine, contact a mesothelioma Patient Navigator at Penn today.