Mesothelioma Prognosis

Mesothelioma is one of the most aggressive forms of cancer. It is relatively rare and difficult to treat, usually appearing once it has reached the latest stages of development. Although the average prognosis for mesothelioma patients is currently poor, developing treatment options are beginning to improve the life span of those diagnosed with the fatal cancer.

What Determines Prognosis?

Mesothelioma is an unusual cancer because symptoms do not arise for as much as five decades after the initial exposure to asbestos occurred. Once symptoms do appear, they are often mistaken for a more common, less serious illness. This contributes to the difficulty of diagnosing the cancer.  

In most cases, a mesothelioma diagnosis is made once the cancer has reached Stage 3 or 4. Stages provide a way for doctors to indicate the severity of a particular cancer. Each stage is represented by a particular series of symptoms or factors, including if and how the cancer has metastasized. Because mesothelioma is often advanced at the time of diagnosis, treatment options are limited and are seldom successful.

The late diagnosis also contributes to the difficulty of finding a cure. Researchers are continuously working to come up with tests that identify biological markers in individuals who are prone to developing the disease. It is their hope that identifying these markers can lead to an earlier diagnosis and an eventual cure for the disease.

In general, the following factors will allow doctors to make a fairly accurate prognosis for the mesothelioma patient in question:

  • Type of Mesothelioma – The doctor or oncologist will need to determine what kind of mesothelioma is present – pleural, pericardial, peritoneal or testicular. This is determined by a series of imaging tests and biopsies.
  • The size of the tumor
  • The location of the tumor and whether or not it can be treated surgically
  • Which symptoms are present and the extent of those symptoms
  • Whether the disease has spread to other areas of the body (metastases)
  • The overall health of the individual - mesothelioma patients are typically older individuals who worked alongside large amounts of asbestos in their younger days. They may already be plagued with a variety of other medical problems, making treatment particularly difficult.

Survival Rates

Survival rates for cancer are often quoted in regards to what is known as the “relative five-year survival rate,” which indicates the number of patients who survive for at least five years after their cancer is diagnosed. For mesothelioma, that number is quite low. The American Cancer Society indicates the five-year survival rate for mesothelioma patients is only about 10 percent. This is up slightly from about 5 years ago. The one-year relative survival rate is also increasing, which now stands at about 40 percent. However, the average survival rate remains at only 10 to 11 months after diagnosis.

Nevertheless, new drugs and novel therapies continue to increase the survival rate of mesothelioma patients and provide a more promising prognosis for these individuals. Drugs like Alimta® and treatments such as gene therapy or immunotherapy are providing hope for an everlasting cure.