Unfortunately, science has not yet found a cure for mesothelioma. However, there are some treatments that are available for mesothelioma patients at all stages of the disease. Understanding what treatment options are available, including unconventional treatments, can help you determine what your best plan of action should be after your diagnosis.
Mesothelioma is a rare, aggressive form of cancer that has no cure yet. According to the American Cancer Society, its five-year survival rate stands at approximately 10% since most cases were only diagnosed correctly at an advanced stage. When detected early, it goes up to 20% because treatments can alleviate the symptoms and improve the outlook.
However, bear in mind that statistics only show results based on previous outcomes, and the situation of each patient significantly varies according to their circumstances. Multiple factors can impact the effectiveness of treatments, but it will not change the fact that mesothelioma is not curable.
Survival rates depend on the stage of the cancer at the time it is detected, as well as the type of cancer cells and an individual’s age, gender, and overall health status. If mesothelioma is caught early and treated, a patient may have a better outcome than someone whose cancer is detected later. Some people who receive treatment for mesothelioma go into partial or complete remission, but the cancer may come back months or years later.
Causes of Mesothelioma
Mesothelioma is a rare form of cancer that is caused by exposure to asbestos, which was used for decades in building materials, fireproof clothing, vehicle parts, and a wide range of popular consumer goods. Many people who have mesothelioma suffered exposure to asbestos at work, and some of them brought fibers home on their bodies and clothes and unknowingly exposed their family members to the carcinogen. In other cases, people came into contact with asbestos by using household products, such as cosmetics, appliances, and holiday decorations.
One of the identified risk factors for mesothelioma is asbestos exposure. Most cases result from occupational exposure to the mineral, as many industries previously used asbestos before its strict regulation. Some of the diagnosed patients reported living with someone who worked with asbestos or lived nearby mines or areas with concentrated levels. The fine mineral fibers settle in the lungs when inhaled, causing irritation that leads to mesothelioma 20 to 50 years after exposure. That is why the average age of diagnosed patients is 72 years old, according to the American Cancer Society.
Factors like age and inherited predisposition to cancer also increase your vulnerability to contracting mesothelioma. If you think that your diagnosis is due to an occupational hazard, you can claim for medical costs and settlement.
How Mesothelioma Is Diagnosed
The illness typically develops gradually, and patients usually only begin to display symptoms decades after they suffered exposure to asbestos. Symptoms such as chest pain and shortness of breath can indicate that there is a serious problem, but other, non-specific symptoms tend to generate less concern. When people experience a cough, fever, fatigue, and unexplained weight loss, they may ignore those symptoms or assume that they have some sort of common condition, such as a cold or the flu, that will resolve itself in time.
When an individual goes to a doctor, the physician may perform a physical exam and use imaging tests, a biopsy, and other procedures to figure out whether the patient has mesothelioma or another condition, according to the Mayo Clinic. If a person has mesothelioma, further testing can help the doctor figure out the stage of the cancer.
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Detecting Mesothelioma Early
Early detection is the key to treating mesothelioma, similar to other cancer types. However, it takes several decades for it to develop. By the time it exhibits symptoms for diagnosis, it has already advanced to its final stage, where treatments may result in minimal to no improvement.
Misdiagnosis also happens more often with mesothelioma because its signs are similar to other conditions. Pay attention to red flags like chest pains, shortness of breath, persistent coughing, sudden weight loss, and unusual lumps under the skin around the chest area. It is also crucial to tell your doctor if you had previous exposure to asbestos. Doing so prompts them to run further testing aside from imaging tests, such as X-ray, CT scan, positron emission tomography, and MRI, on potential areas.
People with mesothelioma have higher levels of fibulin-3, osteopontin, and soluble mesothelin-related peptides (SMRPs) in their blood. Although blood tests are not definitive, the results often point to an increased likelihood of the disease. If you have fluid buildup, your doctor can obtain a sample and test it for mesothelioma cells. Your doctor can also order a biopsy to examine actual tissue removed from the tumor or potential site for a more accurate diagnosis.
Typical Prognosis for Mesothelioma
With mesothelioma, prognosis has always been poor, mainly because of late diagnosis. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the median survival following diagnosis stands at approximately one year. It means that around 50% of diagnosed patients will live for at least 12 months.
Nonetheless, the chances of survival can improve significantly, depending on many factors. Among these, the stage or extent of cancer and its location in the body will have the most significant effect. During the early stages, when the tumor remains localized, a patient may go with several treatment options to stop the progression. Considerations like age, overall health, type of mesothelioma cells, and tumor size will also dictate the likelihood of survival. For instance, younger, healthier diagnosed patients can withstand cancer better than older people.
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How Mesothelioma Is Treated
If mesothelioma is detected at an early stage, it may still be localized and treatable via surgery. Using a combination of treatments, such as surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation may improve outcomes for some individuals.
Mesothelioma is an aggressive form of cancer, however, and it often metastasizes or spreads to other parts of the body. In many cases, when an individual finally visits a doctor and receives a diagnosis of mesothelioma, the cancer has already progressed to an advanced stage and there is little that doctors can do to stop it or to slow its spread. Physicians instead focus on making a patient comfortable until he or she succumbs to the illness.
Women and people who are diagnosed at a younger age tend to live longer than men and people who are diagnosed at an older age. People with peritoneal mesothelioma, which affects the abdominal lining, generally live longer than people with pleural mesothelioma, a form of the cancer that affects the lining around the lungs. Individuals with an epithelioid subtype of mesothelioma generally have a better prognosis than those with other types of cancer cells.
The Available Treatments for Mesothelioma
Where treatment is possible, a patient will have four options—surgery, chemotherapy, targeted therapy, and radiation therapy. An effective treatment plan typically involves a combination of at least two.
If mesothelioma is diagnosed before it has spread to other areas, oftentimes surgery can remove the largest parts of the lungs or lining of the abdomen or chest area. Surgery can also be used to remove an entire lung if necessary, the diaphragm, or the lining around the heart. After a doctor removes the cancer that is visible, some patients are given additional treatments such as chemotherapy or radiation.
Radiation therapy is when high-energy x-rays or other types of radiation are used to either kill cancer cells in the body or keep them from growing any further. External radiation uses a machine to send radiation inside the body from a machine outside of the body. Internal radiation can be injected into the body near the cancer.
Chemotherapy is a type of drug that is injected into the body to either kill the cancer cells or prevent them from dividing and spreading. This type of therapy can be beneficial to reduce or eliminate mesothelioma cells from the body. The benefit of chemotherapy will depend largely on the type and stage of a person’s mesothelioma.
Targeted therapy is the use of other drugs to attempt to kill or reduce mesothelioma in the body. Oftentimes, these treatments can cause less harm than chemotherapy or radiation. Some of the more frequently used targeted therapies include monoclonal antibody therapy (infusion of antibodies), bevacizumab (an antibody that binds to a protein that may prevent new blood vessel growth where cancer cells grow), and kinase inhibitors (drugs that block signals that cancer cells need to grow.)
No matter what treatments your doctor recommends, you have legal rights as well. Our attorneys are available to visit with you regarding your mesothelioma case at Pintas & Mullins Law Firm at (800) 307-3113.
Other Treatments and Options Available
The four treatments listed above are not your only options to increase your life expectancy with mesothelioma. Some of the other treatment options that are available include the following alternative approaches:
Biologic Therapy or Immunotherapy
This therapy uses a patient’s own immune system to fight cancer. This type of therapy has shown excellent promise in many types of cancer. These types of therapies are often found in clinical trials, which determine if new treatments are considered safe, or better, than the standard protocol currently used for patients.
Healthy Eating and Lifestyle
While eating healthy is not a cure for mesothelioma, it has been proven that diet and nutrition make a difference in cancer treatments. Eating fruits and vegetables, and removing processed foods and sugar, can not only make a difference in how you feel but also how your body fights your cancer.
You owe it to yourself to look into alternative treatments along with your doctor’s medical advice. While alternative treatments are not for everyone, at least considering these other options may increase your life expectancy.
Support groups are not a cure for mesothelioma; however, these groups can help you build your emotional strength, which can go a long way in your fight against mesothelioma.
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Seek Legal Help for Yourself and Your Family
Symptoms of mesothelioma are often overlooked or missed because they are non-specific. You may have gone to the doctor with symptoms that did not seem serious and may be shocked to learn that you have mesothelioma, an incurable form of cancer.
The diagnosis has likely sent you and your family reeling. You may be struggling to make sense of it all and worried about the future. You and your spouse may be trying to figure out how to pay your medical bills, many of which may not be covered by insurance. You may be worried about covering regular expenses, such as a mortgage, groceries, and credit card bills, and concerned about your family’s long-term financial security.
Contact a Mesothelioma Attorney
Even though mesothelioma is not curable, know that advancements in the medical field have made it possible to have a better outlook now than in previous years. Apart from working with a team of doctors, it is also crucial to seek advice from a legal professional, particularly if you suspect the cause of mesothelioma is asbestos-related.
No matter what medical or therapeutic courses of action you take after you are diagnosed with mesothelioma, you have legal rights. Many companies were aware that their products contained the carcinogen asbestos, and continued to put these products in the stream of commerce. Contacting a mesothelioma attorney can help you understand your rights, and help you with your next steps. Our attorneys are available to visit with you at Pintas & Mullins Law Firm at (800) 307-3113.