Mesothelioma is primarily caused by exposure to asbestos, a naturally occurring fiber used in everything from building insulation to cosmetics. After being diagnosed with mesothelioma, patients and their loved ones face many unknowns. While mesothelioma is very rare, doctors have made tremendous advancements in treatment options. Even though patients are living with mesothelioma longer than ever, asbestos cancer remains an aggressive and difficult-to-treat disease.
At one point, active-duty military and civilians alike encountered asbestos as part of everyday life. More recently, 9/11 first responders and survivors faced clouds of asbestos-laden toxic dust from the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City. Other people commonly exposed to asbestos daily include electricians, plumbers, factory workers, teachers, shipyard workers and chemical plant employees.
Understanding a Mesothelioma Diagnosis
Mesothelioma begins when a victim inhales or ingests microscopic asbestos fibers. Once the fibers become trapped inside the lungs, chest, abdominal area or other bodily tissue, they damage DNA and cause cancerous nodules. Over a period of years and decades, the cancer spreads slowly and undetected until patients start noticing initial symptoms. After a diagnosis, patients undergo three crucial steps to their life with mesothelioma:
To determine a prognosis for the patient’s life expectancy, doctors study factors including the cancer stage, cell type and disease location and subtype (such as pleural or pericardial mesothelioma). The patient’s overall health, age and treatment choices also play an essential role in the prognosis.
Physicians classify the cancer according to severity, also called staging, to ensure the proper planning and treatment options. The scale, from Stage I to Stage IV, helps all members of a medical team collaborate on appropriate treatments.
Stages I and II mesothelioma cancers are generally considered less severe and treatable via chemotherapy, surgery and other procedures. Stages III and IV are advanced, making patients eligible for palliative options, alternative approaches and possibly clinical trials. In addition to conventional treatments, researchers are continually using innovative tools to extend the patient’s life expectancy and quality of life.
What to Do After Your Diagnosis
After a definitive diagnosis, the patient and the patient’s medical team have one goal: surviving mesothelioma. But before beginning treatment, patients and their families should explore steps that could extend life with mesothelioma:
- Pursue a second opinion
While time is of the essence when it comes to mesothelioma treatment, an accurate diagnosis is even more critical for the best treatment options. Since mesothelioma is such a rare cancer, general oncologists can misdiagnose the disease as lung or stomach cancer. A second opinion from a qualified mesothelioma specialist is essential to an accurate diagnosis.
- Explore all treatment options
Options including conventional treatments (chemotherapy, radiation and surgery), alternative therapies and clinical trials are available depending on the stage of the disease. Early-stage mesothelioma patients are usually eligible for more aggressive treatments.
- Meet with more than one doctor
Consulting with a doctor who has a track record of providing successful mesothelioma treatments can improve the chances of the patient’s survival.
- Make lifestyle changes
Changes like an improved diet and exercise regime can boost a patient’s response to treatment.
Mesothelioma Survival Rates and Stages
Mesothelioma is a silent killer. Most mesothelioma patients are unaware they have the disease until the late stages when treatment options are limited. If you’ve been diagnosed with mesothelioma, understanding the disease stage and survival rate are essential to living with mesothelioma.
Like other types of cancer, mesothelioma is classified into four stages. In the case of mesothelioma, the four stages correspond with specific survival rates:
- Stage I – median survival 21 months
- Stage II – median survival 19 months
- Stage III – median survival 16 months
- Stage IV – median survival 12 months
Survival Rate Complications
The most aggressive forms of mesothelioma treatment – including surgery and chemotherapy – may lead to better chances of longer-term survival. While each patient has different reactions to treatment, several general factors suggest a better outcome:
- Female – Women account for about 25% of mesothelioma cases but tend to live longer than their male counterparts.
- Youth – Younger patients often have fewer overall health problems than older patients.
- Good overall health – Patients who are healthier upon diagnosis are better equipped to manage treatments.
Support for Mesothelioma Victims
After a diagnosis, patients and their families often feel overwhelmed. Not only are they handling a frightening diagnosis, but they are also being asked to make crucial decisions – from medical to financial. Patients and their families do not have to go it alone.
Patients and families from across the country get great comfort from connecting. Through their sharing of information and support, these patients and families have lived, learned and, yes, even laughed together.
Consider the following for help:
- Support groups
Support groups specifically for mesothelioma patients and their families provide a safe space to share information and emotions. Patients and families can attend groups in person, via the telephone and, thanks to modern advances, via the internet.
- Travel resources
For many patients, getting the best mesothelioma treatment means traveling to medical centers in other cities and states. Since the costs for travel, such as airfare, car rental and hotels, can be costly, organizations provide travel grants that do not have to be repaid. One organization – Mesothelioma Applied Research Foundation – offers financial assistance to patients for an initial consultation with a mesothelioma expert or to be enrolled in a clinical trial.
- Financial assistance
Most cases of mesothelioma are the result of corporate greed. Large companies ignored warnings about the dangers of asbestos to put profits ahead of people. Due to corporate negligence, more than $30 billion is set aside in asbestos trust funds designated to help suffering patients and their families. They can use this financial compensation for anything they need, including medical bills, household bills and general expenses.
Staying Positive and Seeking Compensation
Researchers use a five-year survival rate as a benchmark to determine treatment success. By definition, a five-year survival rate is the percentage of people in a treatment group who are alive five years after a diagnosis or the start of treatment. While The National Cancer Institute (NCI) determined the five-year survival rate for mesothelioma patients ranges from 5% to 10%, patients are encouraged to remain positive. Survival rate data may not reflect advances in treatments and up-and-coming clinical trials.
Revolutionary treatments such as targeted medications, photodynamic therapy, immunotherapy and gene therapy have shown promising results. At the same time, clinical trials with new and different therapies are ongoing nationwide.
For patients, the many treatment options mean there is hope for living with mesothelioma. Patients and their families should focus on healthy living and understanding the disease process rather than worrying about overwhelming medical bills and living expenses. Contact us today to learn how we help patients and their loved ones get the mesothelioma compensation necessary to live comfortably while undergoing treatments, clinical trials or palliative care.
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Medscape. Malignant Pleural Mesothelioma Staging. Retrieved from https://emedicine.medscape.com/article/1999306-overview
American Cancer Society. Malignant Mesothelioma Stages. Retrieved from https://www.cancer.org/cancer/malignant-mesothelioma/detection-diagnosis-staging/staging.html
Nutfield Trust. Cancer Survival Rates. Retrieved from https://www.nuffieldtrust.org.uk/resource/cancer-survival-rates