Survival Rates of Mesothelioma

Survival rate refers to the percentage of people who will live for a certain period of time after being diagnosed with a disease or illness. The medical community often measures these rates in years - such as one-, three- or five-year rates - and the latter time span is most commonly used by doctors.

Approximately 38 percent of pleural mesothelioma patients live at least one year after diagnosis. Around 10.5 percent live three years or longer, and 6.4 percent survive beyond five years.

Although pleural mesothelioma remains an incurable cancer with a short life expectancy, some patients outlive the average survival times because of their overall good health, by electing specific treatments or because their type of cancer responds well to a particular treatment or drug. Some people exceed normal survivor rates because of clinical trials or other experimental therapies.

Factors Affecting Survival Rate

Several factors appear to influence pleural mesothelioma survival rates. Some of them are tumor-related, some are patient-related. Tumor-related factors include the stage of the cancer and the tumor's cell type. Patient-related factors include gender, age and overall health.

Stage

The stage of a pleural mesothelioma tumor affects survival figures greater than other factors. Pleural mesothelioma patients diagnosed in an early stage (Stage I and II) usually live longer than patients diagnosed in a late stage (Stage III and IV).

One European study on pleural mesothelioma reported that patients with stage I survived 359 days, Stage II survived 147 days, and Stage III and IV combined survived 112 days.

Tumor Histology

A pleural mesothelioma tumor's cell type, the study of which is called histology, can affect survival. The effect on survival rate is typically less than a tumor's stage at diagnosis. Cell types include epithelial, sarcomatoid and biphasic (the latter is a combination of the first two). The epithelial cell type has the longest survival, while sarcomatoid has the shortest survival.

The same European study reported that epithelial patients lived for 252 days, while sarcomatoid patients lived for 207 days.

Gender

Women with pleural mesothelioma tend to have a better survival rate than men. SEER cancer data from 1988 to 2001 report a five-year survival rate of 12.8 percent in women. The survival rate for men with pleural mesothelioma during those years was much lower, at 4.8 percent.

Performance Status

Performance status is a measurement that doctors use to assess a patient's overall health. Patients in good health will receive a higher performance status score than patients in poor health. Every pleural mesothelioma study that has evaluated performance status reported a notable effect on survival, showing an association between high performance status and improved survival.

Age

When diagnosed at a younger age, pleural mesothelioma patients tend to live longer. Older patients exhibit lower survival rates, likely because of deteriorating health. Younger patients typically display higher performance status scores, a factor associated with higher survival rates. One study on pleural mesothelioma found that patients younger than 65 survived 359 days, while patients 65 to 74 survived 242 days, and patients older than 74 survived 131 days.

Treatment Can Improve Survival

Though pleural mesothelioma patients may not be able to change some of the factors that affect their survival rate - such as tumor stage, cell type or their gender - they can try treatments that may extend their survival. When patients receive palliative treatment without a major surgery, average survival is around seven months. A multimodal therapy approach involving surgery, chemotherapy and radiation therapy is currently producing the highest survival rates.

One study conducted by a team of doctors, headed by David Sugarbaker, M.D., at the Brigham and Women's Hospital, reported a five-year survival rate of 46 percent in pleural mesothelioma patients diagnosed with epithelial cell type, no mediastinal lymph node involvement (Stage I), and clear resection margins (meaning these patients had the most cancer cells removed from the edges of the tumor during surgery).

Another study at Brigham and Women's reported two- and five-year survival rates of 38 percent and 15 percent, respectively, in 183 patients with pleural mesothelioma who received chemotherapy or chemoradiation following an extrapleural pneumonectomy.

Survival rates for pleural mesothelioma are expected to improve as new developments improve treatment options. Patients are highly advised to seek treatment from one of the nation's mesothelioma specialists, because these doctors have the best resources and experience to help patients beat the statistics.

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