Mesothelioma is a rare form of cancer caused by asbestos exposure. Those who receive a diagnosis instantly wonder how long they will be able to live with the condition, something that will plague their loved ones as well. Unfortunately, there is not a single, clear answer to this question. The prognosis, realistically, is not good. That said, with advances in modern medicine, numerous clinical trials, and alternative treatments, the prognosis has improved greatly. Patients are living longer and longer, and they are also provided with ways to greatly improve their overall quality of life.

Latency Period of the Disease

Mesothelioma has a very long latency period. This means that it can take many years before symptoms start to become apparent. In fact, the latency period of mesothelioma can be as long as 50 years. By the time symptoms become apparent, they are often confused for chest infection. As such, by the time someone is diagnosed with mesothelioma, the cancer is often in a more advanced stage, which significantly limits the available treatment options.

Mesothelioma Stage at Diagnosis

A significant factor in prognosis is the stage at which the disease is discovered. If patients are diagnosed at stage 1 or 2 of the condition, their survival rate is far greater than those who are diagnosed at a later stage. This is also because they have a much larger number of treatment options available to them. If diagnosed at stage 3 or 4, patients will have much fewer treatment options, which means that their prognosis is much worse as well. Those who are diagnosed with advanced stages of the condition, and particularly those who are in metastases, meaning that it has spread to other parts of the body, have the worst prognosis of all.

Surgical Options

Most cancers are treated through surgery. However, because of the latency period of mesothelioma, surgical removal of the tumor is often not possible, as the cancer is too advanced. However, if the cancer is spotted early enough, tumors may be removed through surgery. Surgery may also be offered to alleviate the symptoms and increase quality of life. However, the patient does have to be healthy enough to go through surgery.

Patient Demographics

Age is also an important factor in the survival rate for mesothelioma, as is gender. Women have better survival rates, as do those who are younger. Younger patients tend to fare much better, although this is also because they usually are diagnosed at an earlier stage.

Co-Morbidity Issues

Elderly patients often have a variety of other medical problems. This means that their survival rates for mesothelioma are significantly reduced. The majority of mesothelioma patients are elderly, unfortunately, which means they are likely to have issues such as kidney disease, heart problems, hypertension, diabetes, and various other illnesses. All of these have an impact on the available treatment options, and on overall survival.

The Mesothelioma Treatment Plan

How long someone can live with mesothelioma also depends greatly on the treatment that is made available to them. Treatment tends to be as aggressive as possible to increase outcomes. However, how aggressive treatment can depend fully on the patients and their overall health. If the patient is already very unhealthy, treatment will generally focus solely on relieving symptoms, rather than being curative in nature.

Type of Mesothelioma and Area Affected

There are different types of mesothelioma, affecting different parts of the body.

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As such:

1. 75% of cases involve pleural mesothelioma, affecting the lungs.
2. 15% to 20% are cases of peritoneal mesothelioma, affecting the abdomen.
3. 5% of cases are pericardial mesothelioma, affecting the heart.
4. 1% of cases are testicular mesothelioma, affecting the testes.

Pleural mesothelioma, the most common type, is generally the easiest to treat. This means that survival rates are also generally greatly increased.

Statistics on Mesothelioma Survival Rates

The life expectancy for someone with mesothelioma averages between eight and 14 months. The main reason for this poor prognosis is the fact that the cancer is generally not discovered until the later stages. At stage 1 and 2, the condition may even be cured. At stage 3, this is much rarer. It is almost unheard of at stage 4. In most cases, at stage 3 or 4, treatment is palliative only, meaning that patients can enjoy a greater quality of life for the short period of time they still have remaining.

As with all forms of cancer, mesothelioma uses the ‘relative five year survival rate‘, which is used with most forms of cancer. This is a numerical figure that shows the number of patients who, after five years from diagnosis, are still alive. At present, for mesothelioma, the relative five year survival rate is just 10%. While this sounds low, it is a great improvement from what it was several years ago. Because it is a condition with such a poor prognosis, other measurements are also taken, all of which have improved over the past 20 years. The one year survival rate, for instance, is now around 40%.

Interestingly, it is also becoming quite common for patients to greatly exceeded the average survival rates. The case of Australian Paul Kraus, for instance, is of particular interest. Kraus, who spent time in a Nazi death camp, was diagnosed with mesothelioma in 1997 and he is still alive today. He designed a personal treatment program, turning away from traditional medicine. Kraus is not unique in his story. A lot of patients are treated with radiation therapy and chemotherapy and have far exceeded the 10 to 11 month survival rate.

It is incredibly difficult for a physician to determine what factors most influence the survival rates of mesothelioma. Patients with seemingly similar situations may live for many years, whereas others survive less than one year. It is believed that the immune system may play an important role in this. As a result, a lot of clinical trials now focus on treatment that strengthen the immune system, thereby enabling people to fight the disease naturally in their own bodies.