The prognosis for someone diagnosed with pleural mesothelioma is often grim. However, making informed decisions about medical treatment and your overall health habits can improve your life expectancy and quality of life.
People often confuse the terms “prognosis” and “diagnosis.” 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 is usually not favorable, but it varies depending on the stage of the cancer and many other factors.
Some of these factors, such as the cancer’s stage, cell type, your age and gender, are beyond your control. However, you do have some control in modifying other factors to positively influence your prognosis. Many patients have lived well past their initial life expectancies by electing treatment, improving their overall health and following the advice of knowledgeable specialists.
Understanding Prognosis, Life Expectancy & Survival Rate
Medical professionals regularly use these three related terms to discuss prognosis. Although they are similar, they are not interchangeable.
A prognosis is a prediction made by a qualified physician of the likely result of your cancer. Doctors base your cancer prognosis on statistics gathered from others with your type of cancer and stage of disease. However, it is only an assessment. Many people have outlived their initial prognoses, and you might be able to improve yours, too, by discussing it with your doctor or our Patient Advocates.
Life expectancy is the estimated amount of time someone will live after a diagnosis. A median life expectancy means half of patients are expected to live longer and half are expected to live shorter.
Median Life Expectancy by Stage for Pleural Mesothelioma Patients:
|CANCER STAGE AT DIAGNOSIS||MEDIAN LIFE EXPECTANCY|
|Stage 1||21 months|
|Stage 2||19 months|
|Stage 3||16 months|
|Stage 4||12 months|
Survival rate refers to the percentage of people who survive for a certain period of time after a diagnosis. These rates are usually measured in 1- and 5-year increments. For example, the 1-year survival rate for pleural mesothelioma is approximately 38 percent, meaning more than one-third of patients live one year or longer after their diagnosis.
Pleural Mesothelioma Patient Survival Rates
|YEARS AFTER DIAGNOSIS||SURVIVAL RATE|
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.
Snehal Smart, M.D.
There are certain factors in your prognosis you cannot change. These factors include your age and gender, specifics about your current blood characteristics, cancer cell type and stage.
Generally, the prognosis is better for younger patients. A younger human body and immune system can better handle the aggressive therapies used to treat cancer. Younger people also tend to have better overall health and physical fitness, which helps them recover from cancer treatment.
Statistics reveal the difference age makes: 43 percent of patients younger than 45 survive five years after diagnosis, compared to just 5.7 percent of patients age 65 or older.
Women with pleural mesothelioma typically have a better prognosis than men. Researchers suspect hormonal differences may play a role in women responding better to treatment.
A review of data from the National Cancer Institute shows the 5-year survival rate for women is almost three times higher than that for men.
Certain biomarkers found in your blood may impact your prognosis. Biomarkers such as COX-2, MIB-1, fibulin-3, white blood cells (WBC) and platelet counts have varying implications for prognosis, for example:
- High levels of the protein COX-2 can indicate a longer life expectancy.
- Low blood cell counts suggest the body is compromised by the cancer, which can negatively impact prognosis.
- High levels of the biomarker mesothelin can signal that the cancer is growing.
These markers vary with each patient and could one day play a pivotal role in optimizing treatment plans for individuals.
Mesothelioma of the epithelial cell type carries the best prognosis because it responds better to treatment than sarcomatoid cells. Epithelioid cells stick together more closely, which means they do not spread as easily as sarcomatoid cells.
Biphasic cells are a combination of the two, and prognosis with this type depends on the ratio of cells present. A higher epithelial cell count improves prognosis.
Staging helps determine how far along a cancer is in its progression. In stages 1 and 2, the cancer is small and localized, while in stages 3 and 4, the cancer has grown and spread to other parts of the body.
Small, localized tumors are easier to extract with surgery and 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.
5 Steps You Can Take to Improve Your Prognosis
Taking action to optimize your lifestyle and health care can improve your prognosis and increase your life expectancy. Don’t delay. Every day counts. Seek professionals with experience in pleural mesothelioma treatment to help you make decisions about your care.
Seek Guidance from Specialists
Working with a mesothelioma expert or specialized 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 the necessary tools or enough experience to diagnosis and treat it effectively. Specialists are the only ones who truly understand the intricacies involved in ensuring you have the best possible care.
We know finding a new doctor on your own can be stressful, which is why we’ve dedicated our free Doctor Match program to helping patients find the right specialist for their specific diagnosis.
We can also help you locate the top mesothelioma treatment centers. Although the majority of cancer centers are located in the Northeast, other specialty centers are found across the country.
Learn About Established Treatments
Most people with pleural mesothelioma can improve their prognosis by electing cancer treatment. How much a person’s prognosis may improve with treatment depends on the stage in which they are diagnosed, their tumor cell type and their overall health.
People with early-stage tumors and the epithelial cell type can benefit from a combination of surgery, chemotherapy and radiation therapy, which is called a multimodal approach. Alone, each of these treatments can alleviate symptoms, but combining them is associated with better life expectancies than any singular treatment. However, not everyone qualifies for this aggressive treatment approach.
Median Survival Period of Pleural Mesothelioma Patients According to a 2011 Study
|With Surgical Treatment||710 days|
|Without Surgical Treatment||288 days|
Patients with late-stage pleural mesothelioma usually benefit the most from palliative treatments, which focus on relieving cancer symptoms and improving quality of life. Though palliative treatments aim to reduce pain and discomfort, they can also extend survival as well.
Consider Participating in a Clinical Trail
Clinical trials test new and emerging treatment options. Many participants have improved their prognosis and even reached remission, thanks to the work of researchers. The U.S. National Institutes of Health maintains a list of dozens of different clinical trials for pleural mesothelioma in various phases and in multiple trial sites across the U.S.
Many clinical trials test new chemotherapy drugs, new combinations of drugs or new pairings of drugs with other types of treatments.
Other clinical trials test the effectiveness of experimental techniques such as immunotherapy, photodynamic therapy, viral therapy and nutritional therapy.
Take Care of Your Overall Health
The healthier you are, the better your body can fight the cancer. Having good overall health and physical fitness will also help you endure the side effects of cancer treatments and live better.
- To boost your immune system, eat a balanced, nutritious diet rich in vegetables and fruit and low in sugar and fat.
- Drink plenty of water to stay hydrated.
- Talk to an oncology nutritionist who can recommend specific dietary changes that will strengthen your body.
Other lifestyle changes that can improve your prognosis include being more active when you are up and getting better rest when you are down.
- Find simple ways to get regular light exercise, and do things you enjoy to keep your mind engaged.
- Get quality sleep and plenty of it to help your body recover from treatment.
- If you’re a smoker, you can especially improve your lung function and overall health by quitting immediately.
Reduce Your Stress
Leading a low-stress lifestyle can improve your overall health, which will improve how your body responds to cancer treatment. Take a look at the stressors in your life and see what you can do to manage them and reduce the frustration and anxiety you experience.
- Take responsibilities off your plate, spend time with loved ones and do activities you enjoy.
- Get the emotional support you need by reaching out to loved ones, joining a support group or meeting with a mental health counselor.
- Your quality of life may be further improved with complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) practices such as massage, acupuncture and meditation.
CAM therapies come in a wide variety — some are as simple as working with a personal trainer to create a special diet and exercise plan, while others are based on mystical belief systems that deal with energy fields and the mind-body connection. Whatever therapy you choose, always be open and honest with your doctors to ensure it won’t interfere with your medical treatment.
Above all, try to keep a positive attitude, and remember that our Patient Advocates are here to provide you free assistance in locating medical and financial resources and answering any medical questions you may have about pleural mesothelioma.