Mesothelioma Survival — What Does it Mean to be a Survivor?
Mesothelioma survival is standardly determined by a relative five-year survival rate. This indicates how many patients have survived five years following their cancer diagnosis. While the statistics exist, mesothelioma patients and loved ones should always follow the guidance provided by their own doctor to understand how they can improve their prognosis and life expectancy. Survival rates demonstrate the percentage of patients in a treatment group who are still alive for a certain period of time following a diagnosis of mesothelioma – rendering survival different from life expectancy.
Someone who is considered a mesothelioma survivor will have extended their survival undergoing treatments and surgery, taking part in innovative clinical trials and often blending different therapies. While the majority of mesothelioma patients do not pass the one to two-year mark, there are survivors that have come to an incredible 10-year mark. They are living proof that it is possible to beat this cancer with effective and diligent treatment.
Mesothelioma Remission and Recurrence
There are two types of mesothelioma remission as there are with any form of cancer: full and partial. Full remission indicates that all symptoms have disappeared and any sign of remaining cancer in the body has vanished. While complete remission in mesothelioma patients is rare, it is possible. It is important to note, however, that while in the immediate instance, the doctor may no longer be able to detect cancer cells, microscopic cancer cells may still remain in the body and there can be no full guarantee that the mesothelioma will never return.
Partial remission indicates a significant improvement in the patient’s cancer but not a complete disappearance. The patient will likely see a great improvement in their symptoms and will therefore feel much better if they have achieved partial remission through mesothelioma treatment.
Mesothelioma survival is directly related to the achievement of remission due to treatment. Studies across various treatment centers have found an overall median survival rate of about 4.5 years and a maximum of 19.5 years.
There are chances that some mesothelioma survivors will experience a recurrence of the cancer after a period of apparent remission where any cancer cells were undetectable. At this moment, there is no way to predict if patients may experience this return of mesothelioma or when it could happen.If the patient experiences mesothelioma recurrence, it is often with the same symptoms they had in the first round.
Treatment for mesothelioma recurrence, however, will often be different – particularly if the patient has already had surgery during their first treatment. Some recommended treatments for mesothelioma recurrence might be first-line or second-line chemotherapy or a innovative biological therapy that is available through a clinical trial.
Mesothelioma Survival Factors
There are several factors that will affect mesothelioma survival rates, such as the patient’s age or gender. The placement, phase and type of mesothelioma cancer, and the condition of the patient’s overall health will also influence the rate of mesothelioma survival.
Early Detection and Disease Stage
While there is no cure for mesothelioma, early detection is a factor in achieving remission and becoming a survivor. Studies have demonstrated that nearly half of patients can expect a survival rate of two years and one-fifth can expect a rate of five years when the mesothelioma is diagnosed early and treated aggressively.
Early detection and diagnosis of mesothelioma means the cancer will be localized. The localized cancer is considered to be in stage 1 of the disease and can often involve the surgical removal of a tumour. Following this stage, however, the cancer cells will have spread past the first location and removal surgery is no longer an option. Treating a much smaller and limited area of cancer is easier, and includes more treatment options, so the earlier the detection, the higher the survival rate.
Patient Health and Age
In general, older mesothelioma patients have a lower survival rate than younger patients. More than half of patients diagnosed before the age of 50 live one year, but less than 30 percent of patients who are 75 years or older live the same amount of time. The difference in age and survival rate is mainly due to the eligibility of younger patients for more aggressive treatments such as surgery, where older patients may not be as eligible due to poor general health or a higher risk of complications.
Specialized Treatments and Disease Management
Mesothelioma patients who are in the earlier stages of their cancer may be eligible for multimodal therapy, which is a blend of surgery, chemotherapy and radiation therapy. This has been found to have the most positive impact on mesothelioma survival rates. Later stage patients may be eligible as well if they have good overall health and are relatively young.
Specialised treatments from a clinical trial could be a great opportunity for increasing the rate of survival. Mesothelioma medications and treatments are frequently being tested and these clinical trials enable patients to take advantage of new treatments that may extend mesothelioma survival.
It is important to remember that management of mesothelioma is of utmost importance, and includes being vigilant when it comes to new symptoms and carefully adhering to follow-up appointments with doctors and specialists.
Mesothelioma Survivor Cases
A 50-year-old female mesothelioma patient is now considered a survivor, having passed the 10-year survival mark. She insisted on not only two but three-second opinions and chose to undergo aggressive pleurectomy/decortication surgery and continuous follow-ups with her doctor for disease management. She does her best to maintain a healthy lifestyle and believes that the combination of the surgery, exercise, and consistent check-ins have carried her this far.
Another patient in his mid-fifties passed the 10-year survivor mark about 6 years ago – long enough to see his children grow and start families of their own. He gives credit to the aggressive extrapleural pneumonectomy surgery for his lengthy rate of survival. He was diagnosed in his forties, and due to this early detection, responded relatively well to the treatment he received. He continues to check for symptoms and has regular check-ups with his specialist to manage any remnants of the disease that could appear. He also maintains a healthy, active lifestyle and insists that continuing to move and travel where possible will only strengthen the battle against the disease.
There are cases of older patients surviving mesothelioma as well. A patient in his mid-60s was diagnosed with stage three inoperable pleural mesothelioma in 2014, and specialists initially informed him that he would have less than a year to live. However, he beat this prognosis due to undergoing a transarterial chemoperfusion study that involved high-doses of chemotherapy directly to specific blood vessels that were feeding tumors. This was, in fact, an innovative clinical trial that he chose to participate in after immunotherapy failed him – and he credits his survival rate so far to the clinical trial and consistent visits to the specialist. He is hoping to make it to the 10-year mark, with another 6 years to go.
How Mesothelioma Research is Improving Survival
Though mesothelioma is still rare, researchers and specialists are optimistic. There have been extreme and consistent advancements in traditional treatments such as surgery, chemotherapy and radiation therapy that have improved the rate of remission and survival; however, there are innovative and emerging treatments such as immunotherapy and gene therapy that has arisen from clinical trial research. These new treatments have demonstrated signs of increased survival rates for mesothelioma patients, and there continue to be steady clinical trials with promising results.
Another more recent type of treatment currently being tested on mesothelioma is gene therapy, which aims to add new genes to cancer cells to make them easier to kill. Some early studies of this innovative method have discovered that the cancer cell may become smaller or slow the growth the cancer in some patients, but the research continues in this area.
Every day, research continues and works in conjunction with gene and tumor banks. This type of active research speeds up the process of discovering new treatments and therapies by using data associated with an actual gene or tumor specimens collected and stored at protected institutions. Researchers have access to the databases of these virtual banks to see what is available and decide if it has the specimens required for a specific study. The bank’s resources are available to medical academic researchers, nonprofit and commercial organizations that are all bound by their common goal of discovering newer, more effective and efficient ways to help mesothelioma patients achieve remission.
What You Can Do to Improve Mesothelioma Survival
Mesothelioma survival is dependent on many outside factors, but there are actions that patients can take to help improve their rate of survival.
Work With a Specialist
Mesothelioma specialists have the potential to significantly transform the care for individuals affected by mesothelioma – both for the patient and their loved ones. Finding a specialist or a team of specialists will likely be one of the most important decisions a patient can make. Specialists offer skills – the ability to diagnose mesothelioma and develop personalized, unique treatment options for each individual patient. They will also offer experience. Though mesothelioma is still rare, specialists see several patients each year, allowing them to become familiar with the cancer and its treatment. Finally, specialists will have connections. They will have knowledge about the newest, most promising treatment options for the patient and will be well connected with the clinical trial community, thereby helping their patient discover the most advanced and appropriate trial for them.
Get a Second Opinion
There are several standards that remain the same across treatment and care for mesothelioma, yet, the research and experience of every specialist will vary. There will be several different methods preferred when treating a patient, and many different experiences and research to pull from. Having more than one mesothelioma specialist work together on the patient’s diagnosis and treatment can be beneficial and can help narrow down the best possible treatment even further.
All patients have rights, and one of these rights is the opportunity to gain a second opinion regarding the diagnosis and treatment options. This just means that the patient has the ability to consult with another specialist to confirm a diagnosis or find different types of treatment options available. It’s worth remembering that every specialist has something different to bring to the table, and with the growth and development of research comes new and different knowledge.
Seek Support and Resources
Physical treatment is necessary, as is mental and emotional support. It is completely normal for patients to feel overwhelmed or frightened, and it is important for them to be with people who care about them. Developing a strong support system is just as much of a necessity as working with a team of medical specialists. Patients will find that speaking to others in similar situations and sharing resources and knowledge will help their mental well-being, and may eliminate some stress and fear.
A good mental health and a positive well-being are also necessary to survive mesothelioma. Patients should look to find support depending on their needs and preferences such as counseling, mesothelioma support groups as well as through friends and family.
It is also important for mesothelioma caregivers or family members to know that support is also essential for their well-being. Supporting someone with mesothelioma is a considerable emotional process and no one should go through this alone. Studies have illustrated that patients with terminal cancers who join support groups have higher survival rates and increased quality of life.
Inform Yourself About Mesothelioma
Patients should keep themselves informed about mesothelioma and new research and trials supporting survival and remission rates. Transparency between specialists, researchers and mesothelioma patients will ensure that everyone is kept up to speed on symptoms and the actions that can be taken to help achieve remission. When patients understand their cancer, they are better equipped to work through it. Studies have shown that this type of health literacy can improve the patient’s experience, relationships and engagement with their specialists and their overall quality of life.
If you would like more information on improving survival rates and achieving remission please contact our Claim Advocates, or get in touch with mesothelioma survivors who are now dedicated to your advocacy and support.