Peritoneal Mesothelioma Life Expectancy

Mesothelioma is a malignant cancer of the mesothelium layer in the body. This layer is the lining covering and protecting internal organs. Mesothelioma manifests itself in the lungs in about 75% of diagnosed cases, but it also less commonly occurs in the abdomen, heart and testicles.

Mesothelioma is usually caused by the inhalation of asbestos-containing materials. Asbestos is a naturally-occurring mineral that is heat resistant and strong, so it was often used in a variety of construction applications like roofing, insulation and tiles throughout the last century. When it is inhaled, the microscopic particles of asbestos lodge in a person's lungs and can persist for decades. These particles can irritate the lung, causing scar tissue and eventually the malignant tumor known as mesothelioma.

Diagnosing Mesothelioma

Diagnosis is difficult due to mesothelioma's long latency period and presentation of symptoms that are very similar to other conditions. After exposure to asbestos, mesothelioma might take upwards of 40 years to show symptoms. Early symptoms for pleural mesothelioma, the lung form of the disease, might include pain, fluid around the lungs, shortness of breath, fatigue, anemia, wheezing, hoarseness, cough or blood in the sputum.

Although difficult to diagnose, it is important for those with high risk factors for mesothelioma, such as those involved in construction prior to 1989, to go for regular screenings. The earlier mesothelioma is diagnosed, the more positively a patient will respond to treatment.

What Affects Life Expectancy?

Life expectancy varies widely depending on risk factors and how early mesothelioma was diagnosed. Statistically, prognosis for pleural mesothelioma, the most common type of mesothelioma that occurs in the lungs, is that 10% of patients will live five years past diagnosis, and typically mesothelioma patients will live between eight and 14 months after diagnosis. The current one-year survival rate is approximately 40%.

However, these statistics have increased dramatically over the last decade as new treatments are developed. Typically, treatment involves multimodality therapy that consists of a combination of surgery, chemotherapy and radiation. Although individually each treatment has not been shown to be effective, there have been some patients that have lived well beyond five years.

One of the most important factors in having a prognosis with an increased life expectancy is early diagnosis. Mesothelioma is typically categorized in stages of progression from stage 1 to stage 4. If the cancer is diagnosed in stage 1 or stage 2, then the tumor remains relatively localized and has not spread or severely affected other organs. If caught during the first two stages, mesothelioma has a much greater chance of being cured. If mesothelioma is discovered during stage 3 or 4, life expectancy is poor and typically palliative treatment is administered.

Other factors that affect life expectancy include the age and overall health of patients. If the patient has favorable prognostic factors and multimodal treatment is applied, life expectancy is much greater. For those with a history of asbestos exposure, it is imperative to seek regular screenings to catch mesothelioma early.