Mesothelioma is a rare cancer that attacks cells in the tissue that lines the body cavity called the mesothelium. The only known cause of this disease is exposure to asbestos.
Incidence of Diagnosis
Between 2,500 and 3,000 new cases of mesothelioma are diagnosed each year in America. This indicates that it is still a fairly rare disease, but incidence will rise in the next several decades, according to projections.
Age at Diagnosis
Mesothelioma is typically first diagnosed in patients between the ages of 50 and 70 years. Though some diagnoses occur earlier or later, these cases are considered statistical outliers.
Men are more commonly diagnosed with mesothelioma than women, mostly due to higher risk of occupational exposure to asbestos. However, there is no evidence to suggest that men are more prone to the disease than women. African Americans are diagnosed with mesothelioma much less frequently than Caucasian Americans. Researchers are still investigating the cause of this disparity.
Typical Patient Survival Rates
Mesothelioma is often diagnosed in its late stages, in which case the prognosis is typically very poor. Many patients are given little more than a year to live after diagnosis. However, earlier diagnosis may improve the expected prognosis dramatically. As alternative mesothelioma treatments are developed, it is likely that survival rates will increase.
The latency period for mesothelioma after exposure to asbestos is quite long, usually 20 to 50 years. Over extended periods of time, asbestos fibers lodged in the lungs inflame the lungs’ external tissue. This is often a precursor to mesothelioma disease.
Mesothelioma is an extremely aggressive form of cancer. Therefore, very few patients experience remission. Mesothelioma often spreads locally into the lungs, lymph nodes, or abdominal cavity.
There is no cure for mesothelioma despite recent positive strides in the treatment of the cancer. Patients who are diagnosed during early stages can often survive for many years when treated with chemotherapy, surgery, and radiation therapy. Alternative treatments in conjunction with traditional cancer treatments have had a positive effect for some mesothelioma patients as well.
Traditional treatments, nutritional supplements, palliative therapies, and body-stress reduction techniques have helped some mesothelioma patients survive many years longer than their original prognoses predicted.
Mesothelioma Life Expectancy
General health, cancer stage at diagnosis, and the eligibility of a patient for various aggressive treatments affect his or her mesothelioma life expectancy. Those diagnosed at early stages of the cancer and who are in generally good health are given the best prognosis.
Though other causes have been hypothesized in rare cases, the only proven cause of mesothelioma disease is exposure to asbestos. Therefore the avoidance of asbestos and buildings which contain asbestos is the best possible course of prevention.
Most mesothelioma occurs in adults who have been exposed to asbestos.
Diagnosis in children is extremely rare, and the cause of childhood mesothelioma is unknown.
Mesothelioma and Women
Many women diagnosed with mesothelioma have not been directly exposed to asbestos. They often discover they were exposed through washing or handling clothes in which their husbands had been exposed to asbestos at work.
Using cancer-fighting antigens within the body’s immune system, most patients have responded positively when given the mesothelioma vaccine. Soon this therapy can hopefully be applied to those who are at risk of developing mesothelioma, particularly those who have been exposed to asbestos but have yet to develop cancer.