Improving Your Prognosis

The general prognosis for someone diagnosed with pleural mesothelioma is often unfavorable. However, making informed decisions about treatment, lifestyle changes and overall health can improve survival and quality of life.

Prognosis and diagnosis often are confused. A prognosis is the likely outcome of a disease, like a forecast of how the disease will affect a person. A diagnosis is the medical classification of which disease a person has. A pleural mesothelioma prognosis usually is not favorable, but may vary depending on the stage of the cancer.

Diagnosing the cancer in the early stages offers a more hopeful outlook because doctors can still perform curative surgery to remove tumors.

People diagnosed with this type of asbestos-related cancer can improve their chances of survival. Many have lived well past their life expectancy by electing treatment and improving their overall health. That could include lifestyle changes, and following the advice of knowledgeable specialists and experts.

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Understanding Prognosis, Life Expectancy & Survival Rate

Medical professionals use these terms on a regular basis to discuss prognosis. Although they are similar, they are not interchangeable. Learning more about these terms may help you understand your prognosis a little better.

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Find Specialists to Treat Your Diagnosis

One of the first steps to improving your prognosis is finding a specialist who is familiar with your specific diagnosis. Our team of dedicated patient advocates will help match you to a doctor based on your diagnosis and location.

Circumstances That Affect Your Prognosis

There are a number of factors that determine someone’s individual prognosis. Some of these cannot be changed, including the cancer’s stage and cell type. But you have some control in modifying other factors to positively influence your prognosis.

Factors You Can Change

Overall Health

People in good health tend to respond better to cancer treatment. Pleural mesothelioma research shows patients in good overall health and physical fitness can handle the side effects of treatment better and often live longer. If you’re a smoker, you can improve lung function and overall health by quitting. Eating a balanced, nutritious diet that’s rich in vegetables and fruit and low in sugar and fat will improve immune function. Getting quality sleep and plenty of it is essential to good health and will help your body recover from cancer treatment.

Treatment Options

Most people with pleural mesothelioma can improve their prognosis by electing cancer treatment. How much a person’s prognosis may improve with treatment can depend upon the stage in which they are diagnosed, their tumor cell type and overall health. People with early stage tumors and epithelial cell type can outlive the typical one-year survival by undergoing multimodal therapy with surgery, chemotherapy and radiation therapy. Patients with stage IV pleural mesothelioma can extend survival by undergoing chemotherapy. Sometimes radiation therapy is used to shrink tumors in an effort to reduce painful symptoms and possibly extend survival.

Lifestyle Changes

Leading a low-stress and healthy lifestyle can improve your overall health, which in turn improves how your body responds to cancer and cancer treatment. Take a look at the stressors in your life and see what you can do to reduce the stress they cause. Take responsibilities off your plate, spend time with loved ones and do activities you enjoy. Improving your health by eating well, drinking lots of water and getting good sleep will help your body respond better to treatment and may improve your quality of life. Get the support you need by reaching out to loved ones, join a support group or meet with a mental health counselor.

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Factors You Can't Change

In addition to the factors mentioned above, there are multiple aspects of your diagnosis that you cannot change. These factors include predisposed facts about you (blood characteristics and gender) as well as the current state of your cancer (cell type and stage of cancer).

Blood Characteristics

Certain biomarkers found in blood may have an impact in determining a prognosis. Biomarkers like COX-2, MIB-1, white blood cells (WBC) and platelet counts have varying effects on prognosis. For example, high levels of the protein COX-2 could extend survival. Low blood cell counts can indicate the body is compromised by the cancer, which can negatively impact prognosis. High levels of the biomarker mesothelin can indicate the cancer is growing. These markers vary with each patient and could one day play a pivotal role in optimizing treatment plans for individual patients.

Stage of Cancer

Staging helps determine how far along a cancer is in its progression. Early stages mean the cancer is small and localized, while late stages mean the cancer has grown and spread to other parts of the body. Small, localized tumors are easier to extract with surgery and easier to shrink with chemotherapy and radiation therapy, which translates into a better prognosis. Tumors that have spread are difficult to operate on and bigger tumors don’t respond as well to chemotherapy and radiation therapy. Patients diagnosed with stage I or II generally have a better prognosis than patients diagnosed in stage III or IV.

Cell Type

Epithelial cell type carries the best prognosis because they respond best to treatment, while sarcomatoid cells generally do not. Biphasic cells are a combination of the two. Prognosis with this type depends on the ratio of cells present. A higher epithelial cell count improves prognosis. Experts do not know why the epithelial cell type responds better to treatment.


Statistics show women with pleural mesothelioma have a better prognosis than men because they respond to treatment better. Researchers suspect hormonal differences may play a role in women responding better to treatment. A review of data from the National Cancer Institute shows that 13.4 percent of women with pleural mesothelioma survive for five years, compared with only 4.5 percent of men.


Prognosis is better for younger patients. A younger human body and immune system can better handle the aggressive therapies used to treat cancer than an older body. Younger people tend to have better overall health and physical fitness than the elderly, which helps young people recover from cancer treatment better. Some studies report that patients younger than 50 have a more positive prognosis.

Steps to Take to Improve Your Prognosis

Taking action to manage pleural mesothelioma can improve your prognosis and increase life expectancy. The steps you should consider: Working with a specialist, evaluating all forms of treatment, participating in clinical trials and improving your health and lifestyle choices.

Seek Guidance from Specialists

Working with a mesothelioma specialist or qualified treatment center is the best step you can take to improve your prognosis. Since this type of cancer is extremely rare compared to other cancers, not many doctors or cancer centers have access to necessary tools or enough experience to diagnosis and treat it accurately. Specialists are the only ones who truly understand the intricacies involved in ensuring you have the best possible care.

Sometimes finding a new doctor can be a stressful task, but it shouldn’t be. That's why our free Doctor Match program is dedicated to finding the right specialist for your specific diagnosis. We can also help you locate top mesothelioma treatment centers. Although a majority of cancer centers are located in the Northeast, other specialty centers are found across the country.

Detect the Cancer Early

The earlier this cancer is detected, the better the body will respond to treatment. If you have been exposed to asbestos in the past, make sure you mention it to your doctor. Have them routinely check for any signs of asbestos-related disease. Try to give your doctor as much information as you can about your past exposure.

Participate in Clinical Trails

Clinical trials test new and emerging treatment options. Many who participated in clinical trials have improved their prognosis and even reached remission. The U.S. National Institutes of Health shows dozens of different clinical trials for pleural mesothelioma in various phases and in multiple trial sites across the U.S.

Take Care of Your Overall Health

The healthier you are, the better your body can fight against the cancer. A stronger immune system reacts better than a weakened immune system to treatment options like chemotherapy.

To maintain your health, consider visiting your doctor yearly for preventative measures. Ask for an annual physical examination, and keep tabs on your cholesterol, blood pressure, blood cell counts and overall health.

Consider All Your Treatment Options

Pleural mesothelioma treatments are always improving and evolving. Someone diagnosed with this cancer has more options than in decades past, including life-extending and palliative choices. Palliative care includes therapies that relieve symptoms. A 2011 study found median survival for patients treated with surgery was 710 days compared to 288 days for patients who didn't undergo surgery.

The most effective treatment consists of any combination of surgery, chemotherapy and radiation therapy, which is called a multimodal approach. Alone, each of these treatments can improve symptoms. Combining them has proven effective and is associated with a higher survival rate than any singular treatment. However, not everyone qualifies for this aggressive treatment approach.

Meanwhile, palliative treatment aims to improve overall quality of life by managing bothersome cancer symptoms. This may include palliative surgery, chemotherapy and radiation therapy.

Quality of life may be further improved with complementary and alternative medicines (CAM) like massage, acupuncture, nutritional therapy and meditation. Patients can consult a holistic doctor for advice.

Adjusting Your Lifestyle

Other lifestyle changes that can improve your prognosis include dietary changes, increasing daily activity and making smarter, healthier lifestyle choices. Talk to an oncology nutritionist who can recommend dietary changes that strengthen your body to fight this disease.

Although smoking is not a risk factor for this type of cancer, nonsmokers typically have a better prognosis than smokers because of their better lung function. A 2006 report by the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry confirms that when a cigarette smoker is exposed to asbestos, their risk of lung cancer increases by 50 to 84 times.

Please consult our Patients Advocates who will provide free assistance like explaining the differences in treatment options, and answering any other medical question you may have about pleural mesothelioma.

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