Mesothelioma is a rare, asbestos-related cancer that forms on the protective lining of certain parts of the body, most commonly the lungs or abdomen. Symptoms, treatment and survival rates vary depending on the cancer’s location and other important factors. Learning key statistics about mesothelioma can help you better understand the disease and make more educated decisions about your health.
The primary cause of mesothelioma is inhaling or swallowing airborne asbestos, a naturally occurring mineral fiber.
of people with heavy, prolonged exposure to asbestos will develop pleural mesothelioma — the most common type.
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) estimates that 11 million people were exposed to asbestos between 1940 and 1978.
Mesothelioma symptoms typically appear several decades after an exposure to asbestos. The gap between the first exposure and the appearance of symptoms is called the latency period.
Symptoms vary depending on the cancer’s location. Mesothelioma can be challenging to diagnose because early symptoms are usually mild or nonexistent.
|Abdominal Swelling or Tenderness|
|Loss of Appetite|
|Couging up Blood|
|Feeling of Fullness|
|Lumps Under Abdominal Skin|
|Lumps Under Skin of the Chest|
|Pressure on the Heart|
|Reduced Chest Expansion|
|Shortness of Breath|
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Because men are exposed to asbestos more often, they are 4.6 times more likely to be diagnosed with this cancer.
95 percent of all mesothelioma patients are white. Hispanics are diagnosed more frequentlly than blacks or Asians.
For people older than 60 years of age, the risk of developing the disease is 10 times higher than that of people younger than 40.
Treatment for this cancer may involve surgery, chemotherapy and radiation therapy. Patients can also enroll in clinical trials to try experimental therapies.
Research has shown improved survival with multimodal therapy, an approach that combines two or more treatments. A 2007 study on four-modality therapy reported a median survival of 26 months.
Human studies called clinical trials give patients access to the latest breakthroughs in treatment. As of October 2014, researchers have conducted nearly 250 clinical trials for mesothelioma worldwide.
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Statistics on the outcomes of many past patients give today’s patients a general idea of their outlook. On average, 40 percent of pleural mesothelioma patients survive at least one year after starting treatment. By year five, survival drops to 8 percent.
Research shows that women diagnosed with pleural mesothelioma experience nearly three-fold better survival than men. One study reported that 13.4 percent of women survive for five years after treatment, compared to only 4.5 percent of men.
Overall, younger patients have a significantly higher survival rate than older patients. More than 50 percent of patients diagnosed before the age of 50 survive one year, while less than 33 percent of those 75 or older survive the same amount of time.
Regardless of race, one-year survival is about the same. From three years on, survival is slightly worse for whites. National Cancer Institute data shows that five-year survival among whites is 7.6 percent, compared to 12.3 percent for blacks.
Doctors use a four-stage system to describe how far the cancer has advanced within the body. Patients diagnosed at stage I have the best outlook, while survival is worst at stage IV.