Exposure to asbestos can lead to various diseases affecting the lungs including mesothelioma. Often called “asbestos cancer,” mesothelioma is highly aggressive and is resistant to many of the standard cancer treatment options. The prognosis for mesothelioma patients is usually grim with the average survival time varying from 4 – 18 months after diagnosis.
Mesothelioma victims have either inhaled or swallowed asbestos fibers which then travel through the lungs and become lodged in the pleura, the thin, saran wrap-type membrane lining the lungs. The cancer can also develop in the abdominal (peritoneal) area of the body.
Mesothelioma is a rare disease in the general population, with between two thousand and three thousand new diagnoses every year. However, it is not rare among those workers at companies that manufactured asbestos-containing products or workers in certain trades or industries that handled asbestos. More men than women are affected with the disease, with the average age at diagnosis being 60 years.
One problem with treating mesothelioma is that the tumor spreads along surfaces, nerves and blood vessels. This makes it hard for treatment to rid the patient of all of the disease. Patients are often referred to specialists who work with them and their doctors to determine the best treatment.
With an early diagnosis and appropriate care, the patient may get some relief from their symptoms, although there is no known cure. Palliative treatment is available through surgery, radiation and chemotherapy. Since diagnosis is often made once the disease is too advanced for surgery, a combination of chemotherapy and radiation are often used to improve survival time.
The average survival time varies from 4 – 18 months. Each case is unique, and the length of survival and prognosis depend on:
- The diagnosed stage of the tumor.
- The age and general health of the victim.
- Whether surgery is an option.
Participation in a clinical trial may offer more treatment options.