The prognosis of Mesothelioma

When an individual is diagnosed with mesothelioma, one of the first questions they will have is "How long do I have to live"? This is a scary question but one for which most cancer patients will eventually seek an answer.

It is very difficult for oncologists and members of a patient’s medical team to give a definitive answer to this query. Indeed, every case is different and cancer can be an unpredictable disease. Sometimes, cases that look hopeless turn out to be not so bleak. In other cases, cancers that don’t look so bad progress quickly and result in an untimely death.

Malignant mesothelioma is extremely aggressive and has a long latency period. Hence, cases are usually not detected until the disease has reached the advanced stages of cancer. As a result the prognosis for such patients is often not favorable; the mesothelioma survival rate following diagnosis is usually just a year or two. That doesn’t mean, however, that there won’t be exceptions, or that the outlook will not improve in years to come, especially as more and better treatments are developed. Overall, the prognosis has been improving for mesothelioma patients over these past few decades.

Determining Prognosis

Currently, a number of different issues determine the mesothelioma patient’s prognosis. These include:

  • Type - Mesothelioma classified as one of three types, depending on the tissues involved. The epithelial type accounts for about 50 percent of all cases, sarcomatoid mesothelioma is seen in 15 percent of diagnosed patients, and 35% have the mixed type of the disease. Those with epithelial mesothelioma have a better survival rate than the other types.
  • Location - Mesothelioma is also classified on the basis of location. For example, pleural mesothelioma, which attacks the lining of the lung, is the most common, accounting for approximately 8o percent of all cases. Those with this type of cancer have the best rate of survival. Peritoneal mesothelioma, found in the lining of the abdomen, is the next most common and is diagnosed in about 10 -15 percent of mesothelioma victims. It is generally harder to treat. Less common types are very difficult to treat, including pericardial and testicular mesothelioma.
  • Stage of the disease - The prognosis for mesothelioma cancer depends on how early the disease is diagnosed and how soon treatment can begin. Because of the disease’s extended latency period, it is often not diagnosed until it has reached Stage III or IV, when mesothelioma symptoms finally appear. Sadly, many of these symptoms are common to a wide range of respiratory diseases including many that are less serious, like the flu or pneumonia. This often results in misdiagnosis.
  • Metastasis - When a mesothelioma diagnosis is finally made, oncologists will often find that the cancer has spread - or "metastasized" - from the location of the primary tumor - usually the pleura - to other parts of the body, often to the nearby organs as well as the lymph nodes. The extent of the metastases will determine what type of treatment is recommended as well as the prognosis.
  • General health of the patient - Simply put, younger and stronger patients with mesothelioma live longer than those of advanced age who have extant health problems. Seniors are often dealing with issues like heart disease, diabetes, and high blood pressure, making mesothelioma surgery as well as traditional cancer treatments much more risky and severely limiting treatment options.