Mesothelioma Prognosis

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A prognosis is the likely course that a disease will take. Most mesothelioma patients are faced with a poor prognosis. Currently, mesothelioma is an incurable form of cancer. Its rarity (only 3,000 new cases each year in the U.S.) combined with a delayed onset of symptoms make it extremely hard to treat before the cancer spreads to distant parts of the body.

Mesothelioma Prognosis Overview

There are many options to improve a patient’s prognosis, including aggressive surgeries, multimodal treatments and promising new therapies. Many patients who were initially given a poor prognosis have beat mesothelioma, and gone on to live several more years with their diagnosis.

It’s important for patients to have a good understanding of what to expect after they’ve been diagnosed with mesothelioma.

Here’s what patients should know about a mesothelioma prognosis:

  • General prognosis for mesothelioma patients is poor, with a life expectancy of only 12-21 months
  • A prognosis is a likely estimate, not a fact
  • Doctors use indicators such as survival statistics, previous cases and the patient’s health history to determine a prognosis
  • Treatment combinations may improve a patient’s prognosis
  • Patients can seek a second opinion regarding their diagnosis, which can result in a different prognosis
  • Many patients have beaten their prognosis through personalized treatment plans from mesothelioma specialists
  • For more information on top treatment options to improve your prognosis, receive our FREE Mesothelioma Help Guide

What is the Mesothelioma Prognosis?

Prognosis is a term doctors use to describe the likely outcome of a disease. A good prognosis means the patient will likely beat the disease. A poor prognosis means the disease will likely be fatal. Because there is no one cure for mesothelioma, doctors say that the prognosis is poor.

All mesothelioma patients should know that a prognosis is only an estimate based on multiple factors. It’s not a certainty. A prognosis doesn’t take into consideration what will happen to a patient after they receive treatment — the only way to extend a patient’s life.

A Prognosis Can Change

Mesothelioma patients should also understand that their doctors will adjust their prognosis as their disease evolves. When treatments control the spread of mesothelioma, a patient’s prognosis may improve.

A true prognosis for mesothelioma should only be given by a mesothelioma doctor. These doctors know and understand mesothelioma treatment and can predict how the disease will impact your life expectancy. Mesothelioma specialists can also help you understand what to expect as your disease progresses.

Prognosis by Mesothelioma Location

Mesothelioma can form in the lining of the lungs, abdomen or heart. Where the mesothelioma forms determines how it progresses. Certain locations affect particular organs, which also determines the disease’s proximity to any lymph nodes (the body’s immune system filters).

Different disease locations have their own prognoses, life expectancies and survival rates. Each location has standard treatments designed to target each disease.

Pleural Mesothelioma Prognosis

Pleural mesothelioma has a poor prognosis — worse than peritoneal mesothelioma. Because pleural mesothelioma affects the chest, it compromises the respiratory, circulatory and ultimately the lymphatic systems. Pleural mesothelioma patients often die due to complications caused by mesothelioma, such as pneumonia or congestive heart failure.

Multimodal treatment — including a combination of surgery, chemotherapy and radiation — can greatly improve the disease’s course.

As of now, most pleural mesothelioma patients do not survive past two years after their diagnosis. However, multimodal treatment, including a combination of surgery, chemotherapy and radiation, can greatly improve the disease’s course. There are some reports of pleural mesothelioma patients surviving more than 10 years, and a few of them have been declared disease-free.

What Treatments Are Right for Your Mesothelioma Diagnosis?

Mesothelioma is a complex disease requiring specialized treatments. The Mesothelioma Help Guide helps patients understand their diagnosis and get the best treatments to improve prognosis.

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Peritoneal Mesothelioma Prognosis

Peritoneal mesothelioma has the best prognosis of all three locations, but it is still poor. Peritoneal mesothelioma patients can expect to live 12 months after their diagnosis. However, the outlook is generally better because peritoneal mesothelioma treatments have higher success rates.

It is easier to operate on and remove tumors from the peritoneum (abdominal lining) than the chest cavity.

The procedure for removing tumors from the peritoneum is called cytoreduction. Peritoneal mesothelioma specialists follow up cytoreduction (tumor debulking) with heated intraperitoneal chemotherapy (HIPEC). HIPEC is administered directly into the abdominal cavity and kills remaining cancer cells left behind after surgery.

Peritoneal Mesothelioma Survival Rates

Statistics show that 50% of peritoneal mesothelioma patients who undergo cytoreduction with HIPEC live 5 years or longer with their disease.

Pericardial Mesothelioma Prognosis

Pericardial mesothelioma has the poorest prognosis of all locations because it affects the heart, which presents extremely high health risks. In many cases, doctors cannot perform surgery on these patients, because the disease has spread too far or the risk of fatal complications is too high.

By the time doctors reach a diagnosis, most patients are too sick to undergo surgery. If detected early enough, doctors can perform a pericardectomy — removing the diseased heart lining — and use chemotherapy to improve prognosis.

For patients who receive a pericardial mesothelioma diagnosis, their average life expectancy is 6 months.

What Determines a Prognosis?

While it can be good for mesothelioma patients to inform themselves of survival rates and median life expectancy statistics, it’s important to note that a variety of factors determine an prognosis.

Mesothelioma advocates continuously reinforce the varying nature of the disease, and that it’s not one-size-fits-all cancer with catchall treatments.

Instead, mesothelioma specialists look at many factors when giving their patients an accurate and realistic prognosis.

The top mesothelioma doctors treat their patients as individuals and will look at things like:

Mesothelioma Location

Doctors typically formulate a general prognosis first based on where the mesothelioma has formed. Of the the primary locations, peritoneal has the best prognosis while peritoneal has the worst prognosis, with pleural falling in the middle.

Mesothelioma Stage

At this time, only pleural mesothelioma has an official staging system. In staging, doctors use imaging tests and other tools to determine how far the mesothelioma has spread. The farther it has spread to distant sites, the worse the mesothelioma prognosis.

Cell Type

Thanks to researchers’ continued dedication to mesothelioma, we now know that there are three mesothelioma cell types (different cell types have different behaviors). With this information, doctors can determine how rapidly the mesothelioma will spread.

Patient Health

A patient’s overall health is also a vital consideration in a prognosis. Aging patients are usually in poorer health compared to younger patients, which makes them less likely to respond well to treatment. Doctors also consider pre-existing health conditions and how bad the patient’s symptoms are.

Treatment Options

The above factors help doctors determine what treatment options are available. The more treatment options a patient has, the better their prognosis will likely be. This is especially true when surgery is an option. Surgery can improve a prognosis by removing as much of the cancer as possible.

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How Can I Improve My Prognosis?

All patients should ask their team of healthcare providers this question: “How can I improve my mesothelioma prognosis?” Though doctors are the ones responsible for administering treatments, there is a lot that patients themselves can do to ensure the effectiveness of their treatments.

Some of the ways patients can take control of their own health and improve their prognosis include:

  • Committing to a Healthy Lifestyle: Healthy patients respond better to treatments than patients in poor health. Healthy patients can better withstand harsh side effects of aggressive chemotherapy drugs or potential surgical complications. Eat well and continue moderate exercise. Eliminate all harmful substances such as drugs, cigarettes and alcohol.
  • Communicating With Specialists: Build strong lines of communication with your health care team. Keep your doctors aware of any changes in symptoms or medication side effects. Your doctors will know how to intervene and adjust your treatment plan accordingly.
  • Pursue Complementary Therapies: Many doctors recommend pursuing additional therapies like acupuncture, physical therapy or massage. While there is no evidence that these therapies will directly improve survival, they may help ease symptoms.
  • Participate in Clinical Trials: When faced with limited treatment options, you can undergo new therapies being tested in clinical trials. All patients should ask their specialists about participating in clinical trials, as many novel treatments, such as immunotherapy, have had life-extending results.
  • Seek Support: Seeking support, such as connecting with a survivor or undergoing counseling, can make a major difference in your overall treatment experience. Being in a healthy mental and emotional space makes it easier to cope with the disease and undergo challenging treatment courses.

Improve Your Well-being

Improving quality of life increases mental and emotional well-being, helping to better equip you to fight mesothelioma. Ask your healthcare team what you can do specifically to improve your prognosis before and after treatments.

Getting a Second Opinion

Mesothelioma patients are entirely within their right to visit another specialist and obtain a second opinion. Medical care today is advanced but not foolproof.

Patients should feel empowered to seek out additional advice and information if they are not satisfied with the prognosis they’ve received.

A second opinion can not only provide you with new information about your condition, but it can also give you more treatment options you otherwise wouldn’t have known of.

Mesothelioma Life Expectancy vs. Survival Rate

It’s normal for mesothelioma patients to feel confused or overwhelmed by the sheer amount of statistics and numbers out there around life expectancy and survival rates. But there is a difference between these two terms, and knowing these differences can help set your expectations.

Life Expectancy

Doctors give each patient a life expectancy, meaning how long they can expect to live with their disease. Life expectancy can change depending on what types of treatments the patient undergoes and the success rates of those treatments.

Life expectancy is typically given in a range of months, such as 18-21 months.

Survival Rate

To determine survival rate, researchers measure how long people lived with their diagnosis over a certain time frame.

For example, the 5-year survival rate for mesothelioma is under 10%. This means that less than 10% of patients diagnosed with any mesothelioma survived 5 years or longer.

Most of the survival rates you see often include cases from decades ago when treatments weren’t as advanced. As more cases of mesothelioma are treated, we’ll likely see an adjustment to survival rates that will reflect a more accurate picture.

Find the Right Specialist for Your Diagnosis

Mesothelioma doctors across the country are accepting new mesothelioma patients now. Our Doctor Match Program connects you with a nearby specialist to help improve your prognosis.

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What Is Mesothelioma Remission?

Remission is a medical term that describes an inactive disease state. For mesothelioma patients, remission means that even though the cancer is still present, it has stopped spreading and is now either fully or partially under control. The signs and symptoms have decreased or disappeared completely.

When a patient is in full remission, it means that the treatments like surgery, chemotherapy or radiation have removed all visible and detectable signs of mesothelioma.

Partial remission is when the patient responds well enough to treatments that the tumors have shrunk and are no longer spreading. Though there are still signs of cancer, the patient’s condition can be further managed with ongoing therapies.

Though there’s always a chance that mesothelioma will recur, specialists anticipate this and can intervene with additional therapies to manage the disease.

Remission vs. Cured vs. Cancer-Free

When a cancer patient is cured, it means there are no longer any traces of the cancer in their body. It also typically means that your cancer will never come back. There is no cure for mesothelioma, but some patients may be able to live longer with treatments.

Cancer patients in remission have reduced signs and symptoms of their cancer. In a complete remission, there are no signs or symptoms of the cancer left in the patient’s body. When a patient no longer shows any signs or symptoms, a doctor may say they are cancer-free.

However, cancer cells can remain in a patient’s body for years despite treatment, meaning the cancer can return. This is known as recurrence.

Mesothelioma Recurrence

Recurrence occurs when a patient’s cancer returns after years of being undetected. Since recurrence is likely in mesothelioma survivors, they should continue attending follow-up visits after treatment. They should also remain vigilant in looking for symptoms that may indicate their cancer has come back.

Cancers typically return within the first 5 years following treatment, but they can still come back at a later point in time. This is why many doctors will not say that a patient is cured. Instead, they may say that a patient has no signs of cancer at this time.

If a mesothelioma survivor experiences a recurrence, the treatment that follows will likely look different than their initial treatment.

Treatments for recurrent mesothelioma may include:

  • Chest wall resection surgery to remove cancerous tumors
  • First-line chemotherapy (when a patient has not had chemotherapy before)
  • Second-line chemotherapy (when a patient has already had chemotherapy)
  • Biological therapy or targeted therapy through a clinical trial
  • Treatments to help control symptoms, such as radiation therapy, a pleurodesis or a thoracentesis

Get the Best Treatment Possible

When it comes to improving a prognosis, the importance of a personalized treatment plan for improving prognosis cannot be overstated. Mesothelioma specialists understand that no two cases of mesothelioma are alike. Tailored treatment plans specifically target your unique type of mesothelioma, giving you a greater chance at longer survival.

Working with a mesothelioma specialist, undergoing multimodal treatment, committing to taking care of your health and participating in clinical trials are all standard, yet crucial elements of an improved prognosis. Many survivors are living proof of this philosophy.

Mesothelioma research is advancing rapidly, and what was once a death sentence is not always the case anymore. Many of the country’s top mesothelioma specialists have shifted their attitudes toward mesothelioma. Today, doctors are much more inclined to approach mesothelioma as a chronic disease requiring ongoing management and control.

If you’re interested in a personalized mesothelioma treatment plan, contact our Patient Advocates today. Call us at (800) 584-4151 or receive a FREE Mesothelioma Help Guide to review top treatment options to help improve your prognosis.

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Sources
  1. Cancer Research UK, “Mesothelioma: Survival.” Retrieved from: http://www.cancerresearchuk.org/about-cancer/mesothelioma/survival. Accessed on November 15, 2017.
  2. American Cancer Society, “Survival Statistics for Mesothelioma.” Retrieved from: https://www.cancer.org/cancer/malignant-mesothelioma/detection-diagnosis-staging/survival-statistics.html. Accessed on November 15, 2017.
  3. US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health, “Peritoneal Mesothelioma: A Review.” Retrieved from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1994863/. Accessed on November 15, 2017.
  4. Journal of Gastrointestinal Oncology, “Diagnosis and treatment of patients with malignant peritoneal mesothelioma.” Retrieved from: http://jgo.amegroups.com/article/view/5959/5763. Accessed on November 15, 2017.
  5. Medscape, “Mesothelioma Treatment & Management.” Retrieved from: https://emedicine.medscape.com/article/280367-treatment. Accessed on November 15, 2017.

Last modified: September 6, 2019