In considering any type of cancer, patients and their doctors no doubt will want to talk about survival rate. For some varieties of cancer, the survival rate is quite high and victims are reassured by numbers that indicate a good chance that – after some treatment – the individual can live cancer-free. For mesothelioma patients, historically, the picture hasn’t been so rosy. A diagnosis of mesothelioma some fifty, twenty, or even ten years ago carried with it a certain death sentence. Lately, however, the odds have improved a bit and some are making it past that all-important five-year mark, surviving mesothelioma.
Any oncologist will tell you that the key to beating cancer is to catch it at an early stage. Decades – and even years ago – if was nearly impossible to diagnose mesothelioma in Stage 1 or even Stage 2, when the disease was still largely contained and hadn’t spread from the pleura (or other primary location) to other parts of the body. Most victims of mesothelioma were (and still are) diagnosed at Stage 3 or 4, when the most obvious symptoms have begun to appear, prompting a trip to the doctor.
These days, however, researchers have been experimenting with locating
biomarkers that indicate the early presence of mesothelioma. Blood tests such as the MesoMark Assay© can be easily performed on someone who is a likely candidate for the disease. Positive results that appear before any symptoms are obvious mean a much higher chance of survival or a more positive prognosis for a longer life, far beyond the weeks or months usually suggested when a Stage 3 or 4 patient is diagnosed.
Search the internet for mesothelioma survivors and you’ll find that many who are still living 5, 10, or 15 years after their diagnosis were able to opt for radical surgical procedures, such as the extrapleural pneumonectomy. This surgery involves the removal of the diseased lung as well as the pleura of that lung and often the diaphragm and the lining of the heart. (The linings of the organs are often replaced with a goretex-type material.) For a patient to survive this surgery, they must be in good health prior to the operation. Younger meso patients are often the best candidates for this surgery.
Patients who are willing to “take a chance” on a clinical trial are often awarded with some extra time, though there hasn’t yet been a drug or other therapy that has presented a cure for this dreaded disease. The downside is that, because these drugs or therapies are in the testing stage, the risks are not always apparent. Your doctor can direct you to the options for participating in such trials and he/she and the trial coordinators will be honest about the risks and advantages connected with the testing.
Oncologists are finding that stepping outside of the box sometimes helps when treating mesothelioma. Newer therapies such as immunotherapy and gene therapy might be the answer to slowing the progress of the disease, for example, and maybe even eventually offering a cure. Be open to trying something less well-tested (but still FDA approved) as treatment options for your disease.
Most of all, you’ll want to make sure you’re using an oncologist who is extremely well-versed in the treatment of mesothelioma. This may not mean the doctor at the hospital around the corner from your home. Research those who are making the most strides in treating asbestos-caused cancer and be open to perhaps visiting a doctor elsewhere who can provide the best consultation available and offer the treatments that will best increase your chance for survival.