Mesothelioma has long been known for its poor prognosis and low life expectancy. Signs of mesothelioma may not be evident for years after asbestos fibers have been inhaled or ingested. This makes early detection and the benefits that come along with it seem almost out of reach.
However, over the last two decades, significant advancements have been made. Today, the word survivor can sometimes be associated with mesothelioma.
Surviving mesothelioma involves being proactive. If a person has been exposed to asbestos, they are encouraged to get screened. Getting screened before symptoms occur can be key to fighting mesothelioma. Patients who are diagnosed early can qualify for treatment that is both aggressive and effective.
Doctors also have more knowledge of mesothelioma. There are now oncologists that specialize in the treatment of mesothelioma. These doctors who specialize in mesothelioma understand which treatments work best for their patients.
Early detection and specialist-informed treatment allow for a better shot of outliving their initial life expectancy.
Achieving Mesothelioma Remission
Mesothelioma remission is the goal of treatment until doctors can find a cure. Compared to other, more common cancers, mesothelioma has a poor prognosis. However, there are cases of mesothelioma patients going into remission and living longer and healthier lives.
Patients can go into either full or partial remission:
- Full Remission: This occurs when a patient has No Evidence of Disease (NED). NED is when all visible traces of cancer are gone from the body. Remission and NED are used instead of the term cured because doctors cannot detect any signs of cancer. However, recurrence is possible.
- Partial Remission: This occurs when the mesothelioma has reduced by 50% or more. This reduction can allow mesothelioma to be managed and treated much more easily, even if the cancer has not been fully removed.
Patients in remission should attend follow-up appointments with their doctor to ensure the cancer stays in remission and shows no sign of recurring.
When patients are in partial remission, they may receive ongoing maintenance treatment. This ongoing treatment can keep tumors under control and prevent the spread of mesothelioma cells.
Patients who are in complete or partial remission may not be cured, but it is possible to live a longer and healthier life. When patients work with their doctors to manage mesothelioma, it can become a chronic but treatable disease.
Common Mesothelioma Treatments and Their Remission Effectiveness
Mesothelioma treatments differ based on the progression of the disease. Some mesothelioma treatments may offer a better chance of achieving remission than other therapies. Patients may be more likely to push their cancer into remission if they qualify for more aggressive treatment.
In addition to the treatments listed below, there are new opportunities for mesothelioma patients to participate in clinical trials.
The results from current clinical trials are not certain, but there is a lot of promise to these leading-edge therapies. New ideas for treatment can improve mesothelioma prognosis. Several mesothelioma patients have watched their cancer go into remission by receiving new treatments through clinical trials.
Talk to your doctor if you are interested in being part of clinical trials.
Curative Surgery for Mesothelioma
Surgery offers the best chance of remission for mesothelioma patients. Surgery attempts to remove tumors entirely before they can spread to other parts of the body. Extrapleural pneumonectomy (EPP) and pleurectomy with decortication (P/D) are the two main surgical procedures used for treating pleural mesothelioma.
EPP removes the entire lung and its lining, as well as a portion of the diaphragm. A P/D spares the lung but includes the removal of the lung lining and any tumors on the lung or in the thoracic cavity.
For patients with peritoneal mesothelioma, the most effective surgical treatment is cytoreduction with HIPEC.
Cytoreductive surgery removes tumors, while hyperthermic intraperitoneal chemotherapy (HIPEC) applies heated chemotherapy drugs directly into the abdominal cavity. This procedure allows any mesothelioma cells missed in the surgery to be killed by the heated chemotherapy solution.
Patients who receive cytoreductive surgery have an average survival rate of 80%. Peritoneal mesothelioma patients who do not receive cytoreductive surgery have a 38% chance to survive past one year.
Chemotherapy for Mesothelioma
Chemotherapy on its own is less effective than surgery for achieving remission. Chemotherapy is much more effective when used in combination with surgery.
Cytoreduction with HIPEC or neoadjuvant chemotherapy (chemotherapy before tumor extraction) are the most effective ways to use chemotherapy. Recent successes with certain drug combinations have shown significant potential for reducing mesothelioma tumors.
Radiation Therapy for Mesothelioma
Radiation therapy on its own is unlikely to cause mesothelioma to go into remission. However, this therapy can still be effective as part of a larger treatment approach.
To increase its benefits, this treatment can be blended with chemotherapy or surgical procedures. Radiation therapy can be administered before surgery or after surgery, depending on the treatment plan.
Benefits of Seeing a Mesothelioma Specialist
Long-term remission and survival is the ultimate goal for all mesothelioma patients. While some factors impacting a patient’s ability to achieve remission are out of our control, some of them you can take into your own hands.
Connecting with a mesothelioma specialist as soon as possible is one of the best ways to do so.
Mesothelioma is rare, meaning it hasn’t been at the center of most cancer research, and awareness of the disease has historically been limited. While this is changing, general oncologists can’t yet provide the same level of expertise for your treatment as a specialist can.
Your mesothelioma specialist can advise you on the best treatment plan for your cancer type. This may help increase the likelihood of sending your cancer into remission and surviving longer than your prognosis.
Surviving With Mesothelioma
A mesothelioma diagnosis — and the prognosis that comes with it — can be stressful. Some patients may feel like they’ve lost control over their body and life. This doesn’t have to be the case.
More than ever before, there is hope for patients to survive and manage this disease. Encouraging stories of mesothelioma patients outliving their prognosis and fulfilling their dreams and goals are becoming more common.
You can take proactive steps toward the possibility of becoming a mesothelioma survivor by:
- Working with a mesothelioma specialist
- Taking care of your general health
- Being open to new treatment options
Specialists around the world are working to combat mesothelioma and improve the manageability of the disease. Significant strides have been made, and the future looks promising.
Have hope and to trust in your care team — and yourself — to help you retain a high quality of life and fulfilling lifestyle on your journey to survivorship. By working with specialists, taking care of your health, and being open to new treatment options, you may be able to achieve long-term survival.
Reach out to our Patient Advocates at Mesothelioma Hope to learn more about mesothelioma survivors.