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Mesothelioma, a rare and aggressive cancer caused by asbestos exposure, is most often a death sentence. The disease is typically diagnosed in later stages, when it has spread extensively, offering little hope of a cure or remission. While mesothelioma is difficult to treat and harder to cure, there are stories of survival.
Some people will beat the odds. If you or a loved one may have been exposed to asbestos in the past, early action is an most important factor. Regular screening is necessary. The earlier you receive a diagnosis, the better the chances for survival.
Get a Diagnosis Early
The most important factor in surviving mesothelioma is early detection, allowing you to begin treatment before the cancer is advanced. Unfortunately, for many, this isn’t possible. In many cases, people were unaware of asbestos exposure, only discovering years later after finding themselves severely sick. Symptoms of mesothelioma only present decades after exposure. This often leads to a late diagnosis, once the disease has extensively progressed.
To receive an earlier diagnosis, it is important to be aware of asbestos exposure. Be proactive if you think there you may have been exposed in the past. Talk to your doctor about regular cancer screenings and watch carefully for symptoms.
Begin Aggressive Treatment Right Away
Regardless of when the diagnosis is made, it is important to begin treatment as soon as possible. You have better odds of surviving the sooner you start to attack the cancer. Early treatment helps slow tumor growth, can prevent them from spreading, and can even eliminate tumors entirely in some cases.
More aggressive cancer treatments also give patients better chances of survival. For instance, patients with pleural mesothelioma may choose to have an extrapleural pneumonectomy. This specialized surgery removes an entire lung as well as the pleura surrounding it and any other cancerous tissue. Not everyone is eligible for such an aggressive treatment. However, it provides the opportunity of a cure for many.
Ask about HIPEC
If your diagnosis is peritoneal mesothelioma, your odds of survival are greater than if you were diagnosed with the pleural form of the cancer. One reason is the treatment option, HIPEC, or heated intraperitoneal chemotherapy. This procedure increased survival rates for many patients.
HIPEC is usually preceded by surgery to remove as much of the cancerous tissue as possible. Then, a solution of chemotherapy drugs are heated and circulated through the abdominal cavity. The area is essentially bathed in drugs, creating a more targeting treatment than traditional chemotherapy. If you were diagnosed with peritoneal mesothelioma, ask your doctors if HIPEC is an option.
Join Clinical Trials
Clinical trials are set up by medical researchers to test the safety and efficacy of new therapies, treatments, and medications. There are usually several trials being conducted at any given time requiring participants with mesothelioma. Tested treatments may work better than conventional therapies. However, they may not work at all and could potentially cause unintended side effects.
Joining a clinical trial is risky because the outcome is uncertain with unapproved treatments. However a special emerging therapy could be the magic bullet that provides a cure. Your medical team can help you find a clinical trial and determine if you qualify.
Improve Your Health
If you are in generally good health, you will have access to more treatment options. People with no other chronic illnesses, like diabetes or heart disease, eat well, are physically fit, and don’t smoke, are more likely to have successful treatments.
Even with a mesothelioma diagnosis, you can take steps to improve your odds of recovery and improve your health. Stop smoking and reduce your alcohol intake. Work with a nutritionist to develop a healthy eating plan. Exercise regularly and lose weight if necessary. Learn healthy and productive ways to manage negative emotions and stress. All of these steps will increase your chances of successful treatment and possible survival.
A Survivor’s Story
While mesothelioma is difficult to beat, there are survivors living years and even decades after a diagnosis. Their stories are inspiring to those battling cancer and can help individuals learn strategies for longer survival.
Katherine Keys is one success story. Katherine was diagnosed with mesothelioma more than 12 years ago. At age 49, she was diagnosed with pleural mesothelioma. After experiencing uncomfortable symptoms, Katherine went to the emergency room assuming she had a bad case of the flu. Though doctors prescribed medication, Katherine’s health did not improve. She returned for more tests which discovered this devastating cancer.
Katherine’s diagnosis was stage I pleural mesothelioma. Stage I indicates the cancer had not spread far. She had hope, with aggressive treatment, of significantly extending her life expectancy. Katherine chose to undergo a risky and aggressive surgical procedure known as an extrapleural pneumonectomy.
The surgery completely removed one lung along with the pleural tissue surrounding it. She knew her activity would be limited with only a single lung and there were risks. However, Katherine didn’t hesitate to take this bold step. Following a successful surgery, she received radiation therapy to clean up any remaining cancer cells.
Follow ups showed Katherine’s cancer was gone. Her medical team had cured her mesothelioma, which is a rare accomplishment. Receiving an early diagnosis and an aggressive treatment were two important factors that helped her beat this terrible cancer. Katherine remains cancer-free more than a decade later.
Mesothelioma continues to have a poor prognosis, but things are changing. With advances in treatment and diagnosis patients are living longer or even beating their cancer altogether. For the best odds, be sure to get an early diagnosis and begin treatment as soon as possible. You can also improve your odds of success by choosing aggressive treatments and participating in appropriate clinical trials.
Page Edited by Patient Advocate Dave Foster
Dave has been a mesothelioma Patient Advocate for over 10 years. He consistently attends all major national and international mesothelioma meetings. In doing so, he is able to stay on top of the latest treatments, clinical trials, and research results. He also personally meets with mesothelioma patients and their families and connects them with the best medical specialists and legal representatives available.