A cancer diagnosis is always frightening, but for those who are diagnosed with mesothelioma, the diagnosis is even more alarming because of the short life expectancy associated with the disease. While it’s true that some new therapies have resulted in slight improvements in prognosis, mesothelioma remains one of the most lethal forms of cancer, with few real strides being made within the last several decades of research.
How long an individual will live after being diagnosed with asbestos-caused cancer depends on several different parameters. Before answering any questions about prognosis or how long someone can survive while battling mesothelioma, doctors will look at a number of different issues.
1. Age of the patient – Oncologists report that the average age of an individual diagnosed with mesothelioma is 65. At age 65 or older, many individuals are already dealing with the effects of aging as well as other health-related problems.
Because of this, older victims of mesothelioma will likely have a shorter life expectancy than someone who is younger and healthier. Unfortunately, because of the long latency period, earlier diagnoses rarely happen.
However, some experts believe the median age will continue to drop as more and more individuals who suffered secondhand exposure as children begin to emerge. If these younger mesothelioma patients have fewer health problems, they may be candidates for more aggressive treatments, which may result in a better life expectancy.
2. Length of the latency period – As was mentioned in the previous paragraph, mesothelioma has quite a long latency period in most cases, with the disease remaining undetected for as long as 50 years. That means many victims are 70 years old and older when first diagnosed and are already nearing the end of their life. Mesothelioma makes that end come sooner.
3. Type of mesothelioma – At time of diagnosis, doctors will determine the type of mesothelioma from which the patient is suffering. Pleural mesothelioma is the most common form of the disease and the one that carries the best prognosis.
With quick treatment, a pleural mesothelioma patient can live beyond a year after diagnosis but very few make it to that critical five-year mark. Pericardial and peritoneal mesothelioma carry a much shorter life expectancy, with most patients lasting only several months after diagnosis.
That’s because these two forms of the disease are very difficult to treat and suggested therapies generally offer no long term benefits. Rather, they only serve to keep the patient as comfortable as possible during their battle with the disease.
4. Smoking – Smokers with asbestosis have a greater risk of developing mesothelioma and mesothelioma patients who continue to smoke will shorten their life significantly, doctors report.
Treating mesothelioma continues to be an uphill battle though researchers continue to work at improving life expectancy. Several years ago, the drug Alimta© helped pleural mesothelioma patients see some improvement in prognosis. Similarly, the Mesomark© assay, which tests for certain biomarkers in the blood, has promised to make early diagnosis a bit easier.
Of course, researchers continue to test new drugs and other therapies in the hopes of someday finally defeating mesothelioma, but that day won’t likely be anytime soon.
In the meantime, patients wishing to improve their life expectancy should seek out the country’s leading experts in the disease and consult with them as to the best course of treatment. This may include participating in clinical trials, which come with some risk and may or may not lengthen mesothelioma life expectancy. Many patients, however, believe it’s worth a try, if only to gain a few extra months of time with their loved ones.