Making Sense of Your Mesothelioma Diagnosis
Key facts about mesothelioma prognosis
Mesothelioma Cancer Lawyers
Patients are left with difficult questions after receiving a mesothelioma diagnosis. Much of the time, patients and their families feel ill-prepared to begin treatment. However, understanding some key facts about prognoses and the mesothelioma life expectancy can give you and your family a little peace of mind during this trying time. 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 and more data becomes available, physicians will learn even more about effective treatments. At Vogelzang Law, we want our Chicago, IL clients to have all the information they need about a mesothelioma diagnosis. Learn more about the medical prognosis for asbestos exposure.
What Affects a Patient’s Life Expectancy?
Many factors affect your prognosis and estimated life expectancy, and it’s difficult to give a general answer to this question. Because symptoms usually don’t develop until 20 to 50 years after asbestos exposure, the mesothelioma survival rate is quite low. However, every patient is different and deserves a unique prognosis and treatment plan. Factors affecting your prognosis include:
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.
Understand the Stages of Mesothelioma
To better understand the development of the cancer cells, mesothelioma specialists describe the condition in stages. 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. Staging is an important step in exploring mesothelioma treatments. Physicians typically use the TNM staging system to classify cancer into one of four stages. After your mesothelioma diagnosis, your doctor will look for the following factors:
- Tumor size and extent
- Affected lymph nodes
- Metastasized cancer cells, or extent of spread to other parts of the body
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.
What Happens After a Mesothelioma 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, plumbers, bricklayers, and other construction workers are the most at risk. But if you’ve already been diagnosed with mesothelioma cancer, we recommend two courses of action. These include:
- Meet With a Specialist: An oncologist will be able to provide the highest quality cancer care and educate you on the mesothelioma life expectancy. Only your doctor can tell you what to expect after receiving a diagnosis.
- Consider Litigation: The mesothelioma survival rate is daunting. This condition destroys lives, and many times, asbestos exposure is preventable. If you were exposed to asbestos on the job, consider legal action. At Vogelzang Law, we work to hold negligent companies accountable for their lax safety measures.
Reach Out to Our Team for Representation
If you’d like to pursue a case against a corporation that exposed you or your loved one to asbestos, get in touch with Vogelzang Law. We’re experts in mesothelioma cases, and our team is here to help you build a strong case. Don’t suffer alone after a mesothelioma diagnosis—consult with our experienced attorneys.