Many factors, including your health, the stage and location of your cancer, are considered when determining what treatment you could undergo for mesothelioma.
Unfortunately, mesothelioma often is an aggressive disease and for most people a cure isn’t possible. Mesothelioma is usually diagnosed at an advanced stage, when it is no longer possible to remove the cancer through a surgical procedure. Instead, your doctor may work to control your cancer to make you more comfortable.
Mesothelioma is a rare disease and most general physicians are not familiar with it. Seek out a specialist to discuss treatment goals and options. Some people want to do everything they can to treat their cancer, even if that means enduring side effects for a small chance of an improvement. Others prefer treatments that make them comfortable so that they can live their remaining time as symptom-free as possible.
Surgeons work to remove mesothelioma when it’s diagnosed at an early stage. In some cases this may cure the cancer. However, sometimes it is not possible to remove all of the cancer. In those cases, surgery may help to reduce the signs and symptoms caused by mesothelioma spreading in your body.
Surgical options may include:
- Surgery to decrease fluid buildup. Pleural mesothelioma may cause fluid to build up in your chest, causing difficulty breathing. Surgeons insert a tube or catheter into your chest to drain the fluid. Doctors may also inject medicine into your chest to prevent fluid from returning.
- Surgery to remove the tissue around the lungs or abdomen. Surgeons may remove the tissue lining the ribs and the lungs (pleurectomy) or the tissue lining the abdominal cavity (peritonectomy). This procedure will not cure mesothelioma, but may relieve signs and symptoms.
- Surgery to remove as much of the cancer as possible. If all of the cancer cannot be removed, surgeons may attempt to remove as much as possible. This procedure allows doctors to more accurately direct radiation treatments to relieve pain and fluid buildup caused by mesothelioma.
- Surgery to remove a lung and the surrounding tissue. Removing the affected lung and the tissue that surrounds it may relieve signs and symptoms of pleural mesothelioma. This is particularly effective in conjunction with radiation, as it also allows doctors to use higher doses of radiation in the chest area, since they won’t need to worry about protecting your lung from damaging radiation.
Chemotherapy uses chemicals to kill cancer cells. Systemic chemotherapy travels throughout the body and may shrink or slow the growth of a mesothelioma that cannot be removed using surgery. Chemotherapy may also be used before surgery to make an operation easier or after surgery to reduce the chance that cancer will return.
Chemotherapy drugs may also be heated and administered directly into the abdominal cavity, in the case of peritoneal mesothelioma. Using this strategy, chemotherapy drugs can reach the mesothelioma directly without injuring healthy cells in other parts of the body. This allows doctors to administer higher doses of chemotherapy drugs.
Radiation therapy focuses high-energy beams from sources such as X-rays and protons to a specific spot or spots on your body. Radiation may be used after surgery to kill any remaining cancer cells. It may also help reduce signs and symptoms of advanced cancer in situations where surgery isn’t an option.
Your prognosis with mesothelioma depends mostly on the stage and type of cancer you have. Improving that prognosis can depend on finding a specialist with experience treating your form of the disease.
Cancer specialists diagnose between 2,000 and 3,000 new cases of mesothelioma a year in the United States. When they confirm the existence of asbestos cancer, they quickly determine the prognosis, their best estimate of your battle ahead and also the probable outcome. Mesothelioma is a difficult disease to beat. And while there are many aspects to it that you can’t control, there are things that you can do to help improve your quality of life and possibly improve your survival.
Although prognosis varies greatly depending on the factors described above, younger patients appear to have the most optimistic prognosis. A 2,959-patient study conducted by the American Cancer Society (ACS) noted that nearly 37 percent of mesothelioma patients younger than 45 years old survived for more than five years after diagnosis.
Approximately 20 percent of patients aged 45 to 54 survived for longer than five years. According to a study published by the Journal of Thoracic Oncology, the survival rate for patients is generally considered to be one year.
Factors That Affect Your Prognosis
Your mesothelioma prognosis depends on several factors, including the cancer’s stage, plus your age, gender, overall health and history of asbestos exposure. Unique qualities of your cancer at the time of diagnosis such as the exact type of cancer you have, the stage of your cancer and whether your cancer has spread are all equally important in shaping prognosis.