How to Survive Mesothelioma
Mesothelioma, the cancer caused by asbestos exposure, is most often a death sentence. People are typically diagnosed in later stages, when the cancer has spread too far to give them any hope of a cure or remission. While mesothelioma is difficult to treat and even harder to cure, there are stories of survival and people beating the odds.
Some people will survive mesothelioma, and if you or a loved one has been diagnosed or been exposed to asbestos in the past, early action is the most important factor. Get screened early and often for cancer if you think you were exposed to asbestos. The earlier a diagnosis is made, the better the chances for survival are.
Get a Diagnosis Early
The most important factor in surviving mesothelioma is catching it early and beginning treatment before the cancer is too advanced. Unfortunately this isn’t possible for many people. In so many cases exposure to asbestos was unknown and victims are surprised decades later to find themselves suddenly severely sick. The symptoms come on years after exposure and are often not severe or noticeable enough to get a diagnosis until it is too late.
To get an earlier diagnosis it is important to be aware of asbestos exposure. If you think there is any chance you were exposed in the past, usually because of your work, be proactive. 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. The sooner you can start to attack the cancer, the greater your odds are of surviving it. Early treatment helps to slow tumor growth and spread and can even eliminate tumors entirely in some cases.
The more aggressive treatments also give patients better chances of survival. For instance, patients with pleural mesothelioma may choose to have an extrapleural pneumonectomy. This is a surgery that removes an entire lung as well as the pleura and any other tissue that may have tumors. Not everyone is eligible for such an aggressive treatment, but if you are it gives you a chance to cure the cancer.
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 possibility of being treated with HIPEC, heated intraperitoneal chemotherapy. It has increased survival rates for many patients.
HIPEC is usually preceded by surgery to remove as much of the cancerous tissue as possible. Then, chemotherapy drugs in solution are heated and circulated through the abdominal cavity. The area is essentially bathed in drugs, which makes the treatment more targeted 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 safety and effectiveness for new therapies, medications, and treatments. There are usually several trials going on at any given time that require participants with mesothelioma. The treatments being tested may work better than conventional therapies, but they may not work. They may also cause unintended side effects.
Joining a clinical trial is risky because the outcome isn’t certain with treatments that are not yet approved. But, a novel therapy does have the potential to be the magic bullet that cures one or more patients. Your medical team and oncologists can help you find a clinical trial and determine if you qualify to participate.
Improve Your Health
More treatment options, including aggressive therapies, will be available to you if you are healthy. People with no other chronic illnesses, like diabetes or heart disease, those who are physically fit, eat well, and don’t smoke, are more likely to have greater treatment options and to have successful treatments.
Even with a diagnosis of mesothelioma you can take steps to improve your health and improve your survival odds. Stop smoking and cut back on or cut out drinking; work with a nutritionist to develop a healthy eating plan; get regular exercise and lose weight if necessary; and find healthy and productive ways to manage stress and negative emotions. All of these steps will better prepare you to receive and benefit from treatment.
A Survivor’s Story
While mesothelioma is a tough disease to beat, there are a few survivors who are living years and even decades after a diagnosis. Their stories are inspiring to those now battling cancer and can help individuals learn some of the things that may help them survive longer. One such story is that of Katherine Keys. She was diagnosed with mesothelioma more than 12 years ago.
Katherine’s received a pleural mesothelioma diagnosis at age 49. She was experiencing some pretty uncomfortable symptoms and had gone to the emergency room assuming she had a bad case of the flu. Doctors gave her medications, but she didn’t get better. Without relief, Katherine returned for more tests and learned she had this devastating cancer.
She was given a diagnosis of stage I pleural mesothelioma, which meant the cancer had not yet spread too far and with aggressive treatment she had hope of extending her life expectancy significantly. Katherine chose to undergo a risky and aggressive surgical procedure known as an extrapleural pneumonectomy.
The surgery meant removing one lung along with the pleural tissue. She knew there were risks and that her activity with only one lung would be limited, but Katherine didn’t hesitate to take this bold step to try to remove all of the cancer. Following a successful surgery she underwent radiation therapy to clean up any remaining cancer cells.
Follow up after follow up showed that Katherine’s cancer was gone. Her medical team had cured her mesothelioma, a rare feat. Being diagnosed early and choosing aggressive treatment were two important factors in helping her beat this terrible cancer. Now, more than a decade later, Katherine is still cancer-free.
Mesothelioma is still a diagnosis that comes with a poor prognosis, but things are changing. Advances in treatment and diagnosis are helping patients live longer with this cancer. They are also helping more people beat it and survive for years and longer. Make sure you get diagnosed and start treatment quickly, choose aggressive treatments, and participate in clinical trials where appropriate to give yourself the best chance to live.
Page edited by Dave Foster
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