Considerable research is continually being conducted around the world into finding how to improve asbestosis treatments and prognosis for the incurable asbestos cancer, mesothelioma. The use of advanced knowledge and technology within medical trials have helped to develop better techniques for prolonging survival rates and providing effective palliative care.
The latency period between the original asbestos exposure period and the first appearance of mesothelioma or asbestosis symptoms varies from 15 to 50 years. For most of the twentieth century, the lack of asbestos awareness, often deliberately withheld by company employers in key asbestos-using industries, often meant that the first signs of the disease were not readily recognised by the victim due to similarities to other health conditions or even misdiagnosed by a doctor.
As a result, a diffuse malignant mesothelioma, which is an extremely aggressive disease, would be confirmed at a considerably late stage in its’ development and prognosis would be no more than 6 -18 months. Even though in law, the time limit for claiming mesothelioma compensation is three years from first confirmed diagnosis, it would be very rare indeed, for a patient to survive to see the resolution of the claim.
A doctor’s ‘prognosis’ describes the likely outcome of a disease, how long a diagnosed patient is expected to live, and the quality of life expected during that time. Prognosis for a mesothelioma patient is dependent on evaluating a number of different factors as mesothelioma is categorised according to the stage the disease has reached, organs involved, type of cells affected and how far the disease has spread within the body.
There are three main mesothelioma categories :
Pleural mesothelioma (lining of lungs) – the most common type, approximately 80% of cases are pleural in origin.
Peritoneal mesothelioma (lining of stomach).
Pericardial mesothelioma (heart membrane).
Furthermore, mesothelioma is classified into three types, based on the type of cells involved:
Epithelial (50% of cases) – a better survival rate than the sarcomatoid or mixed types.
Sarcomatoid (15% of cases).
Mixed (35% of cases).
Early diagnoses and treatment is key to improving prognosis for many cancers. Sometimes mesothelioma develops without any distinguishing symptoms, and the first sign may be a pleural effusion (fluid around the lungs) appearing on a chest x-ray.
Indicators of a better prognosis (which could mean a longer life expectancy and higher quality of life), include: an earlier stage epithelial type of mesothelioma, age under 65 years at diagnosis, absence of chest pain and good performance status (ability to work or care for self). The presence of symptoms for more than six months before diagnosis may indicate a more ‘indolent’ or less aggressive form of the disease.
Indicators of a poor prognosis, include: presence at a developed stage of a high platelet count in the blood, elevated white blood cell count, fever of unknown origin, sarcomatoid or mixed type of mesothelioma, age 65 or older at diagnosis, male, and poor performance status.
Palliative treatment is based on easing the symptoms, as currently, there are limited cures with poor survival rates. Radiation therapy can help with reducing the spread of tumour tissue and present clinical trials use a combination of radiation, chemotherapy and surgery to help increase a poor survival rate.