Mesothelioma Survivors

Quick Summary

Today, the word survivor means more in the context of mesothelioma than it did 20 or even 10 years ago. In other words, things are looking up. Mesothelioma has been known for its generally poor prognosis and grim life expectancy. Due to the insidious nature of the disease where signs may not become evident for years after asbestos exposure, diagnosis has been long delayed. As a result, early detection and all its benefits seemed out of reach.

Individuals with no symptoms, but who have been exposed to asbestos are encouraged to get screened. Patients who are diagnosed early qualify for aggressive, effective treatments. Additionally, specialized doctors have more knowledge than ever about mesothelioma, and have a greater understanding of which treatments work and for whom.

Patients who receive specialist-informed treatments and are in good general health have a better shot than ever of outliving their life expectancy.

Achieving Mesothelioma Remission

Doctors are still working towards finding a cure for mesothelioma. Meanwhile, the goal is to help patients achieve remission. Even though mesothelioma presents a poor prognosis compared to other, more common cancers, there are cases of mesothelioma patients sending their cancer into remission and going on to live longer and healthier lives than expected.

Mesothelioma Remission Update

A patient is said to be in remission when all visible traces of their cancer are gone from the body. This is also sometimes referred to as No Evidence of Disease (NED). Both terms are used instead of the term “cured” because, although recurrence is possible, doctors cannot detect any signs of remaining cancer. Remission and NED can be temporary (if recurrence happens) or permanent.

Patients can also achieve partial remission, which is when the mesothelioma has reduced by 50% or more. It may continue to shrink, but even with half the size, it can be managed and treated much more easily.

The potential for recurrence is part of the current reality of mesothelioma. It’s possible for treatments to miss cancer cells and for these trace amounts of cancer to go undetected.

Even if the mesothelioma has the ability to reoccur does not mean that the disease can’t be managed. Patients in remission will attend follow-up appointments with their doctor to make sure that the cancer is still in remission and doesn’t show signs of relapsing.

Certain patients in partial remission may also receive ongoing “maintenance” treatments to keep the tumor under control and prevent the spread of mesothelioma cells. While patients in complete and partial remission are not considered “cured”, it’s completely possible for them to work with their doctors to manage mesothelioma as a chronic but treatable disease, rather than as the sole determinant of their life and well-being.

Common Mesothelioma Treatments and Their Remission Effectiveness

Certain mesothelioma treatments offer a better chance at achieving remission than other therapies. Patients who qualify for more aggressive treatment are most likely to be able to send their cancer into remission long-term.

In addition to the below treatments, there are new opportunities for mesothelioma patients to participate in clinical trials. While the results from current clinical trials are not certain, there is a lot of promise to these leading-edge therapies. Several mesothelioma patients have sent their cancer into remission by receiving novel (new) clinical trial treatments.

Without these types of new ideas for treatment, improving the mesothelioma prognosis would not be possible. Talk to your doctor if you’re open to being part of such clinical trials.

Curative Surgery for Mesothelioma

Surgery offers the best chance of putting mesothelioma into remission. Surgical procedures aim to remove tumors entirely before they have the chance to spread to other parts of the body. Extrapleural pneumonectomy (EPP) and pleurectomy with decortication (P/D) are the 2 primary surgical procedures used for treating pleural mesothelioma.

An EPP removes the entire lung and its lining as well as a portion of the diaphragm. A P/D includes the removal of the lung lining and any tumors on the lung or in the thoracic cavity. However, it spares the lung itself.

For peritoneal mesothelioma, the most effective surgical treatment is cytoreduction with HIPEC. Cytoreduction surgery is used to remove tumors, while hyperthermic intraperitoneal chemotherapy applies heated chemotherapy drugs directly into the abdominal cavity. This procedure kills remaining mesothelioma cells.

While just 38% of peritoneal mesothelioma patients who didn’t receive cytoreductive surgery will survive past 1 year, 80% patients who do receive the treatment go on to become mesothelioma survivors.

Chemotherapy for Mesothelioma

Generally, chemotherapy on its own is less effective for achieving remission than surgery. Chemotherapy is most effective used in combination with surgery, such as cytoreduction with HIPEC or the case of neoadjuvant chemotherapy (chemotherapy before tumor extraction). However, recent successes with certain drug combinations have shown significant potential for reducing mesothelioma tumors.

Radiation Therapy for Mesothelioma

Radiation therapy is another treatment that is unlikely to cause mesothelioma remission on its own. Still, the therapy can be effective as part of a larger multimodal treatment approach. The treatment can be blended with chemotherapy or surgical procedures to increase its benefits. It can be administered either before surgery or after surgery, depending on the treatment plan.

Benefits of Seeing a Mesothelioma Specialist

We want remission for all mesothelioma patients. While some factors impacting a patient’s ability to achieve remission are out of our control, some of them you can take into your own hands.

One of our top recommendations is connecting with a mesothelioma specialist as soon as possible.

Mesothelioma is rare, meaning it hasn’t been at the center of most cancer research, and awareness of the disease has historically been limited. While this is changing, general oncologists can’t yet provide the same level of expertise for your treatment as a specialist can.

Your mesothelioma specialist can help you increase your chances of sending your cancer into remission and surviving longer than your prognosis by advising you on the best treatment for you.

Surviving With Mesothelioma

Receiving a mesothelioma diagnosis and learning about the disease’s prognosis is undoubtedly stressful. For some patients, it may seem like you’ve lost control over your body and your life. But this doesn’t have to be true. Now more than ever, there is hope for patients to survive and manage this disease while taking back control.

Encouraging stories of mesothelioma patients outliving their prognosis and fulfilling their dreams and goals are becoming more common. By working with a mesothelioma specialist, taking care of your general health and being open to new treatment options, you can achieve the possibility of becoming a mesothelioma survivor.

There are experts around the world working to combat mesothelioma and improve the manageability of the disease. The future holds a lot of potential for patients and the significant strides we’ve made so far are just the beginning. Remember to have hope and to trust in your care team—and yourself—to help you retain a high quality of life and fulfilling lifestyle on your journey to survivorship.

Reach out to our Patient Advocates to learn more about mesothelioma survivors.