|A promising 9% of mesothelioma patients survive five years or more. How did they do it? Well, they didn’t do it alone.|
As a follow up to Mesothelioma Prognosis Part One: Treatment, we are discussing how one improves life expectancy in this Part Two article. While most asbestos use and production ceased in the U.S. by 1980, and the handling of it is heavily monitored and regulated, asbestos can still be found in many places throughout the United States today. New cases of asbestos-related disease are found every day. Roughly 3,000 new cases of mesothelioma are diagnosed in the U.S. each year.
In most cases, it takes 10 to 60 years after asbestos exposure for any symptoms of disease to develop. This has made it difficult for doctors to diagnose mesothelioma and other asbestos-related conditions in the early stages. Because mesothelioma and other asbestos-related diseases are often diagnosed in the late stages, the average survival time, post-diagnosis, is anywhere from four to 30 months.
However, a number of survivors have defied the odds and lived longer than 10 years after diagnosis. Further, a promising nine percent of mesothelioma patients survive five years or more. How did they do it? Well, they didn’t do it alone.
An intense effort to raise awareness about the history and dangers of asbestos and mesothelioma has prompted many former asbestos workers (construction, insulation manufacturers, factory workers, mechanics, military, shipbuilders) and their families to come forward and get tested. One test, a blood test called “MESOMARK assay,” was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 2007. This test detects elevated levels of Soluble Mesothelin-Related Peptides (SMRP) in human serum, which may indicate the presence of mesothelioma years before symptoms begin.
While it’s true that many patients are still diagnosed in the later stages of mesothelioma, in recent years, more and more patients have been diagnosed in the earlier stages—when asbestos-related disease is most treatable.
In fact, one top surgical option—an extrapleural pneumonectomy (EPP), is considered “potentially curative” for early stage localized mesothelioma, says the Division of Adult Cardiothoracic Surgery at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF). Further, patients that have been diagnosed early and have disease that has only affected the parietal pleura, have a good chance of survival, with 70 percent of patients living for five years.
Besides detecting mesothelioma and other asbestos-related disease in the early stages, there are other ways to help improve life expectancy for patients. Some patients respond well to chemotherapy drugs, while others have extended their lives by participating in clinical trials.
Chemotherapy drugs kill or inhibit the growth and division of cancer cells. Some of the most common types of chemotherapy drugs used to treat mesothelioma include Alimta, Platinol or Platinol-AQ, Paraplatin, Tomudex, Onconase, Gemzar, and Navelbine.
Depending on the treatment path, combination chemotherapy may be administered to mesothelioma patients. This involves the use of more than one chemotherapy drug. For example, in 2004, the FDA approved Alimta (generic name Pemetrexed) in combination with Platinol (generic name Cisplatin) for the treatment of pleural mesothelioma. Alimta has shown promise in extending the lives of mesothelioma patients when combined with Platinol.
Clinical Trials also called “clinical studies” (and “life-saving clinical trials” by others) allow new drugs to be tested on volunteer patients. These drugs have been deemed “promising” in early development and have been approved for testing by the FDA. A number of clinical trials are in progress each year, and mesothelioma patients are recommended for these trials by their oncologist. While no clinical trial is without risk, many participants feel that these new drugs have extended their lives, so in many cases, the benefits outweigh the risks.
To recap, (1) early diagnosis, (2) treatment options such as surgery and chemotherapy, and (3) clinical trials may help improve the life expectancy of mesothelioma patients. These conventional approaches should be explored in combination with complementary treatments.
According to the Merck Manual Home Health Handbook, complementary treatments have been shown to help ease many of the symptoms associated with mesothelioma and asbestosis.
Complementary treatments may also improve the quality of life of mesothelioma and asbestosis patients by lessening the side effects associated with conventional chemical and surgical treatments. These treatments also have many psychological and physical benefits.
Complementary treatments such as acupuncture, aromatherapy, herbal medicine, reiki, naturopathy, deep breathing, progressive relaxation, and yoga assist in treating the whole person—body, mind, and spirit. Never underestimate the power of a healthy, positive mind & spirit.
For more information about the life expectancy for mesothelioma patients, request a free copy of 100 Questions & Answers About Mesothelioma here or contact the legal team at MRHFM by calling 866-373-5000.
Also if you missed it check out our Mesothelioma Prognosis Part One: Treatment.
100 Questions & Answers About Mesothelioma
Print. Harvey I. Pass, MD.
Fujirebio Diagnostics, Inc.
The American Cancer Society (ACS)
The Merck Manual Home Health Handbook
Print. Robert S. Porter, MD., Editor-in-Chief
University of California, San Francisco (UCSF)
Division of Adult Cardiothoracic Surgery