Mesothelioma is a rare type of cancer caused by asbestos exposure. Pericardial mesothelioma affects the membrane lining of the heart (pericardium) and is the most unusual form of this deadly disease. Since there are fewer cases of this cancer, there is less known about it compared to peritoneal or pleural mesothelioma. Unfortunately, this also means that the survival rates is low. Surgery, chemotherapy and radiation can be performed to extend a patient’s life, but the median life expectancy is 6 months.
Pericardial Mesothelioma Survival Rates Overview
Mesothelioma is a rare disease. While 70% of malignant mesothelioma cases arise from the pleura and 30% from the peritoneum, only 1% originate in the pericardium. Pericardial mesothelioma is difficult to diagnose in the first instance as few doctors have ever come across it. The condition is caused by the inhalation of toxic asbestos fibers which carry easily in the air. Many workers in manufacturing, mining and the military were unknowingly exposed to this material before it was banned.
The good news is that patients with mesothelioma are surviving longer than ever before due to new advances in treatment technology. Survival rates don’t truly reflect current data as more is being discovered about this rare type of cancer with each passing year of research. Survival rates should be looked at as a window into the past, not the future.
Mesothelioma Research Update
Due to the rarity of pericardial mesothelioma, there are no studies to date that show survival rates. As it’s an extremely difficult cancer to diagnose, 90% of patients only receive a proper diagnosis after death.
A 2004 study reported that there have only been 200 cases of pericardial mesothelioma documented in medical literature, which presents a very small pool of research. The majority of these cases were also diagnosed post-mortem.
Pericardial Survival Rates vs. Life Expectancy
Survival rates are calculated by examining how long other pericardial mesothelioma patients survive. This takes into account past data and does not look at whether the patient was in good general health, their age, if they underwent surgery or what stage the mesothelioma was at when diagnosed. Life expectancy is a statistical measure of time a person is expected to live. A lot of survival rate data is skewed because the majority of patients who develop pericardial mesothelioma are diagnosed post-mortally.
Currently, the median survival time for pericardial mesothelioma is 6 months, but patients are warned to be skeptical of such predictions because of the lack of data. Patients with pericardial mesothelioma are often encouraged to take part in clinical trials to not only offer a better chance of survival through new treatments but also to gain a better knowledge of this rare and complex cancer.
Pericardial Mesothelioma Survival Rate Factors
The survival rate of a pericardial mesothelioma patient is difficult to predict for many reasons. The disease is so rare that large studies cannot be conducted. Additionally, the research looks backward at patients who were previously diagnosed with the disease, not the statistics of today.
There is a good correlation between the stage of mesothelioma and a patient’s survival time, so the sooner the patient is diagnosed, the better the chance of survival.
Other contributing factors to pericardial mesothelioma survival include:
- Tumor location
- Disease stage
- Cell types
- Blood biomarkers
- Other health ailments
A 2010 study looked at two pericardial mesothelioma patients who also suffered from dyspnea (shortness of breath which signifies a disease of the lungs, airway or heart). They both received pericardiectomy surgery—when doctors remove the pericardium.
One patient was a 36-year-old woman with a 10-year history of dyspnea. The second patient was a 57-year old woman with a 4-month history of dyspnea. The 36-year-old woman had a tumor recurrence at 7 months postoperatively and died 11 months after the pericardiectomy. The 57-year old woman had no recurrence and was still alive 16 months after the operation.
While age is a contributing factor to survival rates, this study proves that the stage of tumors is directly linked to survival rates. This is why an early diagnosis is so important, it could be the difference between months and years.
Are Pericardial Mesothelioma Survival Rates Improving?
Survival rates are designed to give the patient and their family an approximate timeline based on past cases. The statistics are taken from patients who had a similar disease, so all rates are approximate. Patients should not take the survival rate as fact and should try to remain positive. Thanks to new methods and increased knowledge of pericardial mesothelioma, patients have a better chance of survival than ever before.
There is no standard procedure for pericardial mesothelioma, so the surgeon must dictate a plan on a case-by-case basis. In most cases, it’s not possible to remove the tumors entirely as they are situated so close to the heart.
Generally, doctors treat pericardial mesothelioma with:
- Pericardiectomy — Removing the pericardium
- Pericardiocentesis — Draining the pericardial sac
- Chemotherapy — Slowing tumor growth with anticancer medications
Working With a Pericardial Mesothelioma Specialist
It’s essential that patients work with surgeons who specialize in pericardial mesothelioma. Most doctors will never come across a case in their lifetimes. By working with medical professionals who have a focused interest and vast amount of knowledge in the area, the fewer risks there are with surgery.
It’s the specialist’s job to take each patient through all the options and create an individualized care plan. It’s true that no two patients are the same, and treating the patient with a tailored plan will increase the quality of their lives throughout treatment and beyond.
For more information on working with a mesothelioma specialist, contact our Patient Advocates today.