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Having a diagnosis of pleural mesothelioma generally means a short life expectancy. The median survival rate for patients is six to eight months. This low rate is caused by numerous factors. Most malignant pleural mesothelioma (MPM) patients are older and are diagnosed only once the asbestos cancer has reached later stages.
Despite the poor prognosis, some patients can live for five years or longer after being diagnosed with MPM. These patients usually undergo significant treatments that include a combination of surgery, radiation therapy and chemotherapy. Other factors that help to increase life expectancy include a uniform cell type that make up the tumor, good overall health and an early diagnosis.
As diagnostic tests and treatment options continue to improve, so will the average mesothelioma prognosis. This is especially true for MPM. Because pleural mesothelioma accounts for 75 percent of all mesothelioma cases, most of the research on the disease pertains to MPM.
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One 2009 study analyzed the overall survival of 456 malignant pleural mesothelioma patients. Groups of patients were separated based on the types of cell structure that made up their tumors as well as what surgical treatments they elected to receive.
Pleurectomy/decortication (P/D), which removes cancerous areas of the lining of the lung, was performed on more than half the patients. Pleurodesis/biopsy, which is used to drain fluid and reduce future buildup, was also a common choice. Extrapleural pneumonectomy (EPP), in which the diseased lung is entirely removed, was the least-favored option because of the severity of losing a lung. All three types of surgery were associated with an improved average survival.
Though some life expectancy factors such as age at diagnosis or latency period cannot be altered or otherwise improved, advancements in pleural mesothelioma treatment are improving life expectancies for many patients. Medical professionals that research and treat pleural mesothelioma are always seeking and testing new methods to improve the prognosis, which is primarily achieved through clinical trials and mesothelioma research. These trials test new medications and treatment options and a number of mesothelioma patients have benefited from participating in such clinical studies.
Advancements in the early diagnosis of pleural mesothelioma are also opening up more treatment options to a greater number of patients. Early detection allows physicians to take a more aggressive treatment track and this can greatly improve life expectancy, but this option is not available to all mesothelioma patients and varies from case to case. Some of the more aggressive treatment options include surgery, chemotherapy and radiation.
After surgery, some patients underwent further treatments: radiation therapy and/or chemotherapy. These additional treatments made a notable difference in life expectancy and were associated with a higher 18-month survival rate. This means that patients who had surgery followed by more treatments had a higher chance of living for 18 or more months. Of all 456 patients, 127 of them (28 percent) lived 18 months or longer.
The study also concluded that some tumors are easier to treat than others. Tumors made up of more uniform cells generally are associated with a better prognosis and longer life expectancy than tumors with a more randomized cell structure.
In addition to cell type and treatment, certain other factors are affiliated with a better prognosis. Good overall health contributes to a longer life expectancy after diagnosis. Younger patients with better health generally have fewer complications during treatment and faster recovery times after surgery.
If your pleural mesothelioma is diagnosed in early stages, you likely will have a longer life expectancy. This is generally because the tumor is still localized, which normally gives you more treatment options. However, since it can take decades for symptoms to appear, it is rare for MPM to be diagnosed in an early stage. In fact, only about 10 to 20 percent of all pleural mesothelioma patients are diagnosed early enough to receive potentially curative surgery. The large majority of patients are only eligible for palliative care or clinical trials.
Clinical trials may help some patients live longer. Clinical trials are meant to test new treatments before they are widely accepted as safe and effective. These tests are not open to anybody. Each trial has a set of requirements for volunteers, which may limit participation based on age, gender and condition. Ask your doctor about any local clinical trials for pleural mesothelioma, or search the national database.
Unlike up-and-coming treatments, palliative care is meant strictly to relieve symptoms and improve quality of life. Some palliative treatments, such as surgery to reduce fluid buildup in the chest, may also slightly prolong life expectancy. Your doctor can tell you which treatments may help you.
Some patients may also choose to look into alternative and complementary treatment options such as acupuncture, chiropractic care and yoga. Like palliative treatments, alternative treatments tend to focus on improving quality of life and boosting overall health. There has been limited clinical testing on the efficacy of these options, but many patients find that these therapies provide significant relief.
If you've been diagnosed with pleural mesothelioma, it is important to meet with a specialist who is familiar with all your treatment options. The Mesothelioma Center can help you find a nearby doctor and set up your first appointment. Use our free Doctor Match Program to get started. The program is specially set up to match patients with doctors who are nearby or with doctors who specialize in your particular type of illness. Fill out this form to get matched with a doctor of your choice.