“How long have I got, doc?”
If you’ve just been diagnosed with mesothelioma, the question above is probably one of the first that came into your mind. Essentially, a prognosis is a prediction of the most likely course of your disease. It can be frightening and demoralizing to hear from a doctor that you only have a certain number of months to live, but it’s important to remember a few things when considering your prognosis.
First, a prognosis is not a death sentence. As the American Cancer Society notes on their website:
To get survival rates, doctors have to look at people who were treated at least several years ago. Although the numbers below are among the most current we have available, improvements in treatment since then could result in a better outcome for people now being diagnosed with mesothelioma.
It’s important to understand how doctors arrive at a prognosis, and to know that many factors affect that prognosis. Some of those factors are outside your control, but there are many things you can do to improve your diagnosis. It’s also important to recognize that any predictions about the outcome of your particular mesothelioma diagnosis is based on statistics that may be several years old, and that ongoing research and new mesothelioma treatments may significantly improve your mesothelioma prognosis.
How a Mesothelioma Prognosis Is Stated
The two most common ways to state a cancer prognosis are in life expectancy or in survival rate.
Life expectancy is exactly what it sounds like. It’s the answer to the question, “How long will I live after a mesothelioma diagnosis?” Your doctors are the only ones who can answer that question – and even then, it’s an educated guess based on statistics of other people who are in a similar situation.
The survival rate is a percentage of the number of people with your diagnosis who are still alive five years after their diagnosis. Again, the survival rate your doctors give you will be based on your specific circumstances.
Factors that Affect Your Mesothelioma Prognosis
When coming up with a prognosis, your doctors will consider a number of different factors. They include:
- The Location – peritoneal, pleural or pericardial
- The Stage – one, two, three or four
- As with most cancers, the earlier you’re diagnosed, the better your prognosis. Stage one mesothelioma is much easier to treat than stage two, and so on.
- Cell Type – epithelioid, sarcomatoid or biphasic
- Epithelial mesothelioma is the most common type of mesothelioma. It affects the cells that make up the lining for your organs and hollow cavities. It is the easiest of the three types to treat, and generally has a slightly better prognosis.
- Sacromatoid mesothelioma is rare, and is often misdiagnosed at first. It has a worse prognosis than either of the other two tissue types.
- Biphasic mesothelioma contains both types of cells, and accounts for 20 to 40 percent of all mesothelioma cases diagnosed. Because it’s difficult to diagnose, it’s often not detected until stage three or four, worsening the prognosis.
- Whether the cancer has metastasized (spread beyond the original site)
- Once mesothelioma has started to spread from its original site, it’s much more difficult to treat successfully, but new types of therapy are improving the chances of successful treatment.
- Your age at diagnosis
- Generally, the younger you are, the better your prognosis will be.
- Women with mesothelioma generally have a better prognosis than men.
- Your overall health
- The healthier you are, the more treatment options are open to you, and the more able you are to handle mesothelioma treatments.
Improving Your Mesothelioma Prognosis
Mesothelioma is a particularly virulent and aggressive form of cancer, and the prognosis is generally shorter than for other forms of cancer. There are, however, things you can do to improve your prognosis, live more comfortably and extend your life.
- Work with experienced doctors and specialists. There are many cancer treatment centers that have mesothelioma specialists on staff.
- Check with another doctor. No doctor will be offended if you seek a second opinion. Other doctors may suggest a different treatment plan, or have access to clinical trials and new treatments.
- Live healthy. Eating healthy and staying active will help you stay strong, improve your immune system and improve your quality of life while undergoing treatment.
- Sign up for clinical trials. Clinical trials expand your treatment options and allow you to access new treatments that aren’t available otherwise.