Mesothelioma, in general, is a particularly rare and dangerous form of cancer. Pericardial mesothelioma, however, is the most unusual and fatal of all, comprising only 1% of total mesothelioma occurrences. It also has the worst prognosis, with a median life expectancy of 6 months. Despite the bleak outlook, there are in fact a handful of pericardial mesothelioma survivors and many more future survivors as research advances.
Surviving Pericardial Mesothelioma
With pericardial mesothelioma, 90% of patients are diagnosed post-mortem, which makes it an even more difficult disease to study. A report published by Papworth Hospital in Cambridge, England, stated that there had only been 200 documented cases of pericardial mesothelioma—an extremely low pool of research from which to conclude. The survival rates for this cancer are not clear, as there is still so little that medical professionals know about the disease.
The difficulty with pericardial mesothelioma is that there are so few cases to take knowledge from. Life expectancy and survival rates are based on patients with a similar diagnosis in the past before treatment technology was where it is today. Today’s medical knowledge is advancing at a pace where there may, one day, be a cure.
What Does It Mean to Survive Pericardial Mesothelioma?
With so much information available to us these days, it can be easy to lose hope when reading about pericardial mesothelioma survival statistics. There’s no denying that this is a fatal disease with a poor history of survival, but thanks to new technology and continued research, patients can survive.
Many mesothelioma specialists have dedicated their careers to finding a cure for this severe disease, and thanks to clinical trials and up-to-date technology, this may one day become a possibility.
There are three stages to be aware of when it comes to surviving pericardial mesothelioma:
- Remission: All visible traces of mesothelioma have been removed. This does not mean that cancer cannot return, but there is no further evidence of the tumors.
- Partial-Remission: Cancer responds to treatment and reduces in size, but does not disappear.
- Recurrence: Remission isn’t possible for every patient, and in some cases, the tumors can return.
Cases of Pericardial Mesothelioma Survivors
While examples of pericardial mesothelioma are few and far between, there are a number of extraordinary circumstances in which the patient has survived.
Mesothelioma Survival Update
A study documented a 27-year old woman with two 1.5-inch masses in the pericardium. The masses were removed through a procedure called a pericardiectomy (which involves the removal of the pericardium), and she received follow-up radiation therapy. Amazingly, 28 years later she had no recurrent tumors and remained cancer-free. A number of factors could have contributed to the success of the case, including the patient’s young age and good overall health, but the success story is a beacon of hope for many patients fighting pericardial mesothelioma.
Detecting the tumors in their early stages is another way to increase a patient’s chance of survival. A 2010 study looked at two patients suffering from acute shortness of breath (dyspnea). They were found to have pericardial mesothelioma and both received the pericardiectomy surgery. The first patient was a 36-year-old woman with a 10-year history of dyspnea. The second patient was a 57-year old woman who had been struggling with dyspnea for 4 months. The 36-year-old woman experienced cancer recurrence 7 months after her operation. She died 11 months after the pericardiectomy.
The 57-year old woman, on the other hand, had no recurrence and was still alive 16 months after the operation.
Another success story published in the Japanese Journal of Clinical Oncology in 2006, is that of a 47-year old woman in Japan who was diagnosed with malignant pericardial mesothelioma. After surgeons drained the pericardial area (a process called ‘pericardiocentesis’) and completed 4 rounds of chemotherapy, the patient was able to resume her regular activities.
There was no regression of the disease at her 24-month check-up, which is a vast improvement on the life expectancy prediction of 6 months.
Improving Pericardial Mesothelioma Survival
In comparison to other types of cancer, very little is known about pericardial mesothelioma. Clinical trials are critical and test new procedures, like immunotherapy and virotherapy:
- Virotherapy: A treatment used to convert viruses into therapeutic agents, virotherapy is one of the most promising alternative mesothelioma treatments. Several studies claim it’s effective at killing cancerous cells.
- Immunotherapy: The process of stimulating the immune system to actively fight off cancer cells, immunotherapy is displaying promising results. It has recently been used in a clinical trial at The Royal Marsden in the United Kingdom to treat patients with relapsed mesothelioma and has seen positive results of tumor shrinkage and disease control.
Patients are encouraged to take part in such trials, not only to increase research but also for a better chance of survival. At present, investment is being poured into mesothelioma research to understand potential treatments and cures better, so there is hope for a brighter future.
Some other factors that contribute to survivor stories include:
- Choosing a treatment based on information from a mesothelioma specialist
- Seeing a palliative care doctor to improve the quality of life
- Eating well and gently exercise to maintain overall health
- Adjusting lifestyle habits (e.g., no smoking, alcohol, etc.)
- Improving your immune system with complementary therapies that improve immunity
Patients diagnosed with pericardial mesothelioma can often feel lonely and confused. By reaching out to other mesothelioma patients for support, the patient may not only elevate their mood by meeting people with a common ailment, but they may also feel more confident about the future.
There is something to be said for positive thinking and keeping an optimistic attitude, and in conjunction with a healthy lifestyle, this could improve survival rates.
Working With a Pericardial Mesothelioma Specialist
As pericardial mesothelioma is such a rare disease, many oncologists will never come across a case in their careers. This is why it’s important to seek a second opinion with a doctor who specializes in mesothelioma. Not only will they be more skilled when it comes to surgery, but they will also be well-equipped to explain the options available to each patient.
No mesothelioma case is the same, so one-on-one care is essential to maximize the chance of survival. It’s also important to ask about clinical trials, which are the key to finding a cure for mesothelioma once and for all.
For more information on working with a pericardial mesothelioma specialist, contact our Patient Advocates today.