Prospects after Being Diagnosed with Mesothelioma

Being diagnosed with any disease or form of cancer is extremely frightening, and many people’s first question or concern is what their prognosis is. When discussing a prognosis, a person wants to know what their life expectancy is likely to be and what their chances of surviving the disease are. Sadly, mesothelioma is an extremely aggressive form of cancer that is often caught in later stages, making the prognosis generally less positive than other forms of cancer. Additionally, it is impossible to say exactly what a person’s prognosis is; however, there are a number of factors that can affect a person’s expected survival and life expectancy, increasing it or decreasing it.

Prognosis and Living with Mesothelioma

CancerWhen diagnosed with mesothelioma, certain factors, such as what type and form a person has, the stage in which the cancer was caught, and others, will play a large role in determining a person’s life expectancy. Sadly, those diagnosed in the later stages of mesothelioma and with the rarer forms of the cancer are likely to have lower life expectancies and less positive prognoses than those in earlier stages.

As a very aggressive form of cancer that is often caught very late in its development, the outlook for mesothelioma is not great for many patients. Although the percentages of people who survive one year and five years after diagnosis has risen greatly in recent years, the number of people who survive past one year is only 40% and only 10% for five years. As a result, the number of people who go into remission is extremely low.

Factors Affecting the Prognosis

When a person is diagnosed with mesothelioma, there are a number of ways in which a doctor may determine their prognosis. Some factors that are used include the following:

  • Overall health – a person whose health is relatively good besides the mesothelioma typically has a better chance of fighting off the cancer and living longer after the diagnosis than those whose health is not as good.
  • Form of Mesothelioma – while a majority of people have an epithelial form of mesothelioma, which has the best rates of survival, there are those diagnosed with the sarcomatoid or a mixed form of mesothelioma, both of which have lower rates of survival.
  • Metastasis – depending on how early the mesothelioma is caught, it may or may not have metastasized already. Metastasis occurs when the cancer spreads from the original location, such as the lining of the lungs or heart, to surrounding tissue or organs. A common place that mesothelioma metastasizes is the lymph nodes. When mesothelioma metastasizes, the prognosis for the person is not as good and treatment has to be more aggressive.
  • Stage of mesothelioma – treatment and prognosis is better the earlier this disease is caught. Typically, a person in stage one or two can begin receiving treatment fairly quickly and responds better to the treatment. Sadly, however, because of the long latency period of mesothelioma and the difficulty in diagnosing the cancer from symptoms, the cancer is not caught until a person is already in stage 3 or 4 of the disease, making treatment much more difficult.
  • Type of Mesothelioma – for those diagnosed with pleural mesothelioma, which accounts for the majority of those diagnosed with this cancer, the prognosis is generally better than for those diagnosed with peritoneal mesothelioma or other forms, such as pericardial.

Mesothelioma is an extremely serious disease that, tragically, affects a number of Americans each year. While catching it early is difficult, those who have been exposed to asbestos should get tested regularly to determine whether they have the disease and try to catch the cancer as early as possible

The Stages of Mesothelioma

Mesothelioma is a very rare form of cancer that is typically found in people who have been exposed to asbestos. Asbestos are mineral fibers that can cause tumors to form in the linings of organs when the fibers become lodged, or stuck, in the lining. Typically this type of cancer affects a person’s pleura, which is the lining of a person’s lungs. However, it can affect other organs in the body, such as the abdomen or heart. Because of how rare mesothelioma is, there is only a formal system for determining the stage of the disease in those diagnosed with pleural mesothelioma, which is the form that affects a person’s lungs. However, because of how aggressive mesothelioma and how much more difficult it is to treat it in later stages, determining which stage a person’s cancer is in is extremely important.

The Differences between the Stages of Mesothelioma

AsbestosMesothelioma has a range of four stages, which are very similar between the three different systems that are used to determine which stage a person’s mesothelioma is in. These three systems – Buchart, TNM, and Brigham – are very similar, but do have slight variations in characterizing the stage of mesothelioma. For the Buchart staging system, which is the most used system for determining the stage of cancer, only focuses on the location of the primary tumor and not how large the tumor is, how many cancer cells there are, or the level of cancer. On the other hand, the TNM system determines stage based on the characteristics of the tumor, if the lymph nodes have cancer in them, and if the cancer has spread to other places in the body (metastasizing). The Brigham system is somewhat similar to the TNM system in that it uses these three factors to determine stage. However, it also uses the effectiveness and possibility of surgery to determine what stage a person is in.

While these stages vary depending on which system is being used, the following four stages are fairly characteristic for each stage:

  • Stage 1 – the tumor is only in one organ or place or has not spread to other tissues and organs. Usually when the cancer is caught in this stage, the tumor can be removed during surgery.
  • Stage 2 – in stage two, the cancer has usually grown and is likely to be in both sides of the pleura or to have gone into the lungs or diaphragm. Also, it may have spread into the lymph nodes. While surgery is possible at this stage, it’s much more complicated and getting the entire tumor is much more difficult.
  • Stage 3 – at this stage of the cancer, the tumor has usually invaded a whole section, such as the chest wall. Sadly, using surgery to remove the cancer is typically not an option at this point anymore.
  • Stage 4 –by this point, the cancer has spread to other parts of the body, also known as metastasizing. It is usually in the lymph nodes as well as other organs, making surgery virtually impossible.

Although it is difficult to catch mesothelioma in the earliest stages, getting check regularly, especially after a person knows they’ve been exposed to asbestos, can give a person a better chance at catching it early on, making the prognosis better.

The Variations of Mesothelioma

Because of its fire-retardant and insulating properties, asbestos was used in a good number of construction and building materials, such as shingles for roofs, tiles, car parts like clutches and brakes, packaging, products that are heat resistant, cement products, and coatings. Despite the strength and other beneficial properties of asbestos, this mineral fiber has a number of drawbacks as well, namely its ability to cause tumors and cancer in people who inadvertently inhale or get the fibers in their bodies.

AsbestosUnfortunately, when products made with asbestos are disturbed or broken, dangerous fibers are released into the air and environment, making it easy for people to inhale them. When a person inhales these fibers, they get stuck in the lining of a person’s organs, such as the stomach, heart, and lungs, causing tumors to grow. When this happens, a person has developed the type of cancer known as mesothelioma. Depending on where the fibers get stuck in the body, the type of mesothelioma that a person develops will vary.

While mesothelioma can affect other organs of the body, there are three places where the fibers most commonly stick and form tumors – the stomach, the heart, and the lungs. The three forms of mesothelioma that this causes are the following:

  • Pleural Mesothelioma – Out of these three forms of mesothelioma, this form of mesothelioma is the most common to affect people. It forms in the lining of a person’s lungs known as the pleura. Symptoms of this form of mesothelioma include difficulty breathing, shortness of breath, pressure felt in the lungs or chest, and coughing fits. Unfortunately, these symptoms may take a long time to appear, and doctors often mistakenly diagnose these symptoms as the flu.
  • Peritoneal Mesothelioma – Behind pleural mesothelioma, peritoneal mesothelioma is the second most common form of mesothelioma to affect Americans. In fact, nearly 30% of the people diagnosed with mesothelioma have this form of the cancer. Peritoneal mesothelioma forms when asbestos fibers affect the cells in the peritoneum, which is the lining of the abdominal cavity. This form of cancer can develop in a person when they either inhale the dangerous asbestos fibers or ingest them. Symptoms of this form of mesothelioma include stomach swelling, unnatural loss of weight, and obstruction of a person’s bowel.
  • Pericardial Mesothelioma –This form of mesothelioma is perhaps one of the most frightening as it forms in the mesothelium, or lining, of the heart. Unlike the other forms of mesothelioma, doctors are less certain of how exactly the asbestos fibers get to the lining of the heart, but it is theorized that the fibers get into the bloodstream and get caught in the lining when the heart is processing the blood. Symptoms of this form of mesothelioma include a lasting cough, heart murmurs, sweating during the night, an off heartbeat, pain in the chest, a heart attack, and fatigue.

Regardless of what form of mesothelioma a person has, it is a serious diagnosis that requires significant and intense treatment in order to give a person a chance at beating the disease.

Treatment Options for Mesothelioma

As an extremely rare form of cancer, mesothelioma only affects a few thousand people per year. However, the reality of this disease is very prominent for those so affected, and finding treatment for the disease is usually the number one priority. Sadly, due to its rarity and aggressiveness, this type of cancer has not been thoroughly researched; thus, the best way to treat mesothelioma has yet to exactly be determined. This is especially true because of the varying stages of mesothelioma and how treatment needs to change based on the stage.

MesotheliomaDespite the lack of research into this problem, doctors have been working on determining the most effective ways to treat mesothelioma. While there is no cure for this disease, there are treatment options for those who have been diagnosed with this form of cancer. According to well-known doctors in the mesothelioma field, the goal of treatment is to prolong a person’s life as best as possible, while minimizing pain and suffering.

Varying Choices for Those Diagnosed with Mesothelioma

Just like other forms of cancer are treated through surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy, so too is mesothelioma when treatment is possible.

  • Chemotherapy – Chemotherapy involves using oral or infusion-based medications that are aimed at killing the cancer cells in a person’s body. This treatment options is used in conjunction with surgery, with people usually taking the medicine before and after. It is also used to help those who are unable to undergo surgery, whether due to the form and stage of cancer or poor health. Chemotherapy can be used to help improve a person’s quality of life as well.
  • Surgery – Surgery is typically only used in about 20% of patients who have the pleural form of mesothelioma. The reason for this is that catching mesothelioma early on is very difficult, due to its long latency period and vague symptoms that are often mistaken for other illnesses, and surgery is only beneficial / can be done when the tumor is in one place of the body and has yet to metastasize to other places. Additionally, surgery is only done when the person’s prognosis is fairly good, which typically means they are in an early stage and have good overall health otherwise. Surgery does not stop the tumors from reforming however; thus, other forms of treatment, such as radiation, are usually used in conjunction with surgery.
  • Radiation –Radiation is a form of treatment aimed at reducing the size of the tumor. However, it can be difficult to use this form of treatment as tumors are usually close to the heart or lungs, which could endanger these vital organs too much to use the high-dose radiation that is usually needed. There is a new form of radiation that can better target cancerous cells, rather than healthy ones, giving a person a better chance at reducing the tumor.

While treating mesothelioma is difficult, particularly in the later stages, it is necessary to giving a person the best chance at survival and in preserving their quality of life.

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