When someone is diagnosed with asbestos-related lung cancer, the doctor usually gives them a prognosis, which is an expected outcome and a time frame for that outcome. A prognosis is an indicator of the person's potential to recover from the cancer, and it gives an estimate of how long the patient can expect to live.
Patients with asbestos-related lung cancer face a similar prognosis as patients with non-asbestos-related lung cancer. In one Japanese study, the average prognosis for asbestos-related lung cancer was 16.2 months, while the average prognosis for non-asbestos related lung cancer was 17.2 months. Of the patients with asbestos-related lung cancer, 25 percent achieved a five-year survival rate with treatment. Exposure to asbestos was not found to substantially increase or reduce a lung cancer patient’s prognosis.
As with other asbestos-related diseases such as mesothelioma, early diagnosis can help lung cancer patients achieve a better prognosis. Asbestos-related diseases develop slowly and are often diagnosed in their later stages, preventing many patients from beginning treatment at the earliest point possible in their disease course. Patients who have been exposed to asbestos but have not yet been diagnosed with lung cancer should consider regular lung cancer screenings, such as CT scans, to catch any cancerous growths before they become so advanced as to negatively impact the patient’s prognosis.
Your prognosis is based on a number of factors. The most common factors include:
Stage of the cancer, including the presence or absence of any metastatic spread of the cancer and size of the cancer
Patient’s age and overall health
Pulmonary function, including patient’s history of smoking
However, your prognosis is not a fixed number. You may be able to improve your life expectancy through treatment. Surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy and alternative therapies all can play a role in someone living longer with asbestos-related cancer.
Several factors affect the prognosis of someone with asbestos lung cancer. Some are positive, meaning they will tend to increase the length of your life, while other negative. The type of cancer and the stage of the cancer are two of the most significant factors. So is your history of asbestos exposure. Among the other factors are age, gender and history of smoking.
|Positive Prognostic Factors:||Poor Prognostic Factors:|
|Non-smoker||Old Age (65 years +)|
|Under age 65||Male Gender|
|Female||Stage III or IV cancer|
|High hemoglobin levels||Cancerous spread to other organs|
|Normal lactate dehydrogenase levels|
Patients can have a combination of both poor and positive prognostic factors.
The cancer’s stage is one of the primary assessment factors when assigning a patient’s prognosis. Overall, lung cancer patients who are diagnosed with an early stage cancer tend to have a better prognosis and longer survival rate. Up to 70 percent of patients diagnosed with stage I lung cancer tumors achieve five-year survival, while the numbers drop as low as 26 percent for patients with stage 3 lung cancer and to less than 10 percent for those with Stage 4 lung cancer.
The following chart from the National Cancer Institute for patients diagnosed between 1998 and 2000 illustrated the average five-year survival rates for each stage of non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC). Note the significant decrease between each stage:
|Stage at Diagnosis||Five-Year Survival Rate (%)|
Non-small cell lung cancer typically includes adenocarcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, large cell undifferentiated lung cancer and bronchoalveolar subtypes of lung cancer.
Adenocarcinoma tends to have a slightly better prognosis than other forms of NSCLC. A 2011 study reported that adenocarcinoma patients lived a median of 8.4 months while all other NSCLC patients lived a median of 8.1 months. While the difference is small, researchers have found similar results in other studies and believe the statistics are significant.
As the more aggressive type of lung cancer, small cell lung cancer has a poorer prognosis. Limited small cell cancer, which is confined to the lungs, is associated with a median survival rate of 16 to 24 months. Extensive small cell cancer, which has spread to other parts of the body, has a median survival time of 6 to 12 months.
Differences in median survival rate between extensive and limited-stage small cell lung cancers:
Asbestos exposure is not a significant prognostic factor for lung cancer patients. Patients with asbestos-related lung cancer have similar prognoses as patients with lung cancer caused by another carcinogen such as cigarette smoke.
While prognostic factors are identified through retrospective studies and scientific analysis, they can’t account for personal factors. Although these factors all play a statistical role in the development of a lung cancer patient’s prognosis, patients can exceed their prognosis without any significant explanation. Some lung cancer patients, such as Kathleen Houlihan, partially credit their survival to alternative medicine and cancer diets, while others have participated in clinical trials that gave them access to groundbreaking therapies.
Karen Selby joined Asbestos.com in 2009. She is a registered nurse with a background in oncology and thoracic surgery and was the director of a tissue bank before becoming a Patient Advocate at The Mesothelioma Center. Karen has assisted surgeons with thoracic surgeries such as lung resections, lung transplants, pneumonectomies, pleurectomies and wedge resections. She is also a member of the Academy of Oncology Nurse & Patient Navigators.
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