Understanding Your Prognosis
Key facts about mesothelioma prognosis
Making Sense of Your Diagnosis and Prognosis
Mesothelioma is an aggressive disease, and many patients are left with difficult questions after receiving a diagnosis. Understanding some key facts about mesothelioma prognoses and life expectancy can help you and your family feel prepared as you begin treatment.
Due to the rarity of mesothelioma diagnoses, researchers are still working to learn more about the way the disease progresses. While there is no known cure for mesothelioma, researchers are exploring new ways to prolong the lives of those who are diagnosed. As treatment advances, physicians will be able to gather more data on two and five-year survival rates.
Many factors affect your prognosis. As a result, prognoses differ for each patient. Factors that may affect your prognosis include the type of mesothelioma you have, the cancer stage, your quality of health before diagnosis and your age. Additionally, the way your body responds to treatment is a unique factor that will influence your prognosis. The best treatment methods differ for each patient. A mesothelioma physician will determine your prognosis and create a treatment plan.
Factors that impact a mesothelioma patient’s prognosis
- Mesothelioma stage
- Mesothelioma type
- Patient age
- Prior health
Mesothelioma symptoms typically take anywhere from 20 to 50 years to develop. Many patients are not diagnosed with mesothelioma until decades after their initial exposure. Additionally, some of the most common mesothelioma symptoms are often misdiagnosed as other illnesses such as pneumonia or the flu. It is important to seek the opinion of a doctor with specific experience treating mesothelioma.
Staging is a method used by oncologists to determine how developed cancer cells are. Cancers found in earlier stages are typically easier to treat and can yield a longer life expectancy. Alternatively, late-stage cancers usually indicate a poorer prognosis. The stage of your cancer is determined by how aggressive it is, its location and whether it has metastasized to other organs. Furthermore, staging can also determine which treatment options are available to you. There are four stages of mesothelioma according to the American Cancer Society (ACS).
The TNM staging system is the most commonly used system for determining the stage of cancer. This system uses the following factors to determine the stage:
- T – Tumor. What is the size and extent of the tumor’s growth?
- N – Nodes. Have the cancer cells reached any nearby lymph nodes? If so, how many?
- M – Metastasis. Have the cancer cells metastasized, or spread to other parts of the body from the primary tumor?
Because stage 1 is the earliest, it typically offers the best prognosis. At stage 1, doctors have found the cancer cells early on in their development, before they have spread. For patients who have been diagnosed with pleural mesothelioma, this means that the pleural lining, the thin layer of tissue surrounding the lungs, has developed malignant tumors. In the later developments of stage 1 pleural mesothelioma, tumors may begin to spread to tissues in the lung, chest or diaphragm. In this stage, the lymph nodes have not yet been affected.
Unfortunately, mesothelioma is rarely diagnosed during stage 1 due to the disease’s long latency period. Patients are often misdiagnosed with other illnesses such as the flu or pneumonia. Without conducting scans like X-rays, tumors in the pleural lining are not revealed. Because symptoms are very minor at this stage, many patients do not see a physician or mesothelioma specialist and remain undiagnosed until much later.
The survival rates for stage 1 mesothelioma are significantly higher than in later stages. According to the ACS, approximately 41 to 46 percent of patients survive two years after diagnosis, and 13 to 16 percent of patients survive five years after diagnosis.
Patients with stage 2 mesothelioma still have minor symptoms, but the cancer cells have begun to spread from existing tumors into nearby lymph nodes. Once cancer cells reach the lymph nodes, it is classified as stage 2 despite the tumors remaining small. Again, it is uncommon for doctors to detect mesothelioma in stage 2 due to symptoms being misattributed to the flu or pneumonia.
At this stage, the ACS estimates a two-year survival rate of approximately 38 percent. Nearly 10 percent of stage 2 patients reach a five-year survival rate. If a patient undergoes surgery at this stage to remove the tumors, the median life expectancy is nearly 20 months.
By stage 3, a mesothelioma patient will begin to experience more severe symptoms including frequent chest pain and difficulty breathing. Patients may also begin to lose weight. At this stage, tumors have spread beyond the pleural lining and surrounding lymph nodes. Cancer cells are now present in nearby areas such as the diaphragm, chest wall and ribs. The spine, esophagus and abdomen may also be affected. It is possible in this stage that cancer cells may spread to the heart sac or heart.
Stage 3 mesothelioma is classified into two divisions: 3A and 3B. In stage 3A, surgery may still be an option to remove the malignant tumors. In stage 3B, surgery is typically not an option to remove the majority of tumors. During stage 3, cancer cells have not spread to distant organs or lymph nodes. Typically, patients in stage 3 are eligible for more aggressive treatments than those in stages 1 or 2.
In stage 3A, the two-year survival rate is nearly 30 percent and the five-year survival rate is eight percent. In stage 3B, the two-year survival rate is nearly 26 percent and the five-year survival rate is five percent. The median life expectancy for stage 3 mesothelioma is approximately 18 months.
Stage 4 is the most advanced staging classification of the disease. Generally, a mesothelioma prognosis is poor during stage 4. By this time, symptoms have worsened. Patients may experience fever, trouble swallowing, fatigue, shortness of breath, chest pain and more.
In stage 4, it is unlikely that surgery is a viable option to remove most of the tumors. Some surgeons may perform smaller surgeries, however, to alleviate breathing difficulty. Additionally, other less invasive surgeries can help to improve the comfortability of the patient, like draining excess fluid from the chest, abdomen and heart.
At this stage, the tumors have spread aggressively. The median life expectancy after diagnosis is nearly 12 months.
Facing a mesothelioma diagnosis can be difficult. We encourage you to reach out to a mesothelioma specialist to ensure that you receive the best possible care and the most accurate information about your prognosis and life expectancy. Only your doctor can tell you what you might expect after receiving a diagnosis.
Mesothelioma is aggressive, especially in its late stages. For this reason, many doctors suggest early screenings for those who believe they may have been exposed to asbestos. Occupational exposure is the most common way that people are exposed to asbestos. Those who worked as pipefitters, construction workers, plumbers, bricklayers and more are among the most at risk.
Seeking asbestos litigation can help you and your loved ones secure justice and financial stability during a challenging time.