Making Sense of Your Mesothelioma Diagnosis

Key Facts About Your
Mesothelioma Diagnosis

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.

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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:

  • Patient age
  • Prior health
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The prognosis for a mesothelioma patient can vary widely depending on various factors such as the stage of the cancer, the location of the tumor, the age and overall health of the patient, and the specific characteristics of the cancer cells. In general, mesothelioma has a poor prognosis because it is often diagnosed at an advanced stage when it has already spread to other parts of the body.

However, newer treatments and clinical trials have shown promise in improving the prognosis for some mesothelioma patients. Patients who are diagnosed with early-stage mesothelioma and are able to undergo aggressive treatment (such as surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy) may have a better chance of survival.

The 5-year survival rate for mesothelioma is relatively low, typically ranging from 5% to 20%, depending on the stage and location of the cancer. However, it is important to remember that survival rates are only statistical averages and do not necessarily reflect an individual’s chances of survival. Some patients with mesothelioma are able to live for many years after their diagnosis with appropriate treatment and care.

It is important for mesothelioma patients to work closely with their healthcare team to develop an individualized treatment plan and to maintain a healthy lifestyle to optimize their chances of survival and quality of life.

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Understanding 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.

stage 2

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.

stage 3

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

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 improve the patient’s comfort, 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.

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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 can 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 was preventable. Almost all mesothelioma claims are compensable.  Bringing a claim can reimburse you for medical costs, as well as the pain and suffering of you and your family.

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Mesothelioma Diagnosis?
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