Currently, the mesothelioma survival rate is dismal—for each year post-diagnosis, the percentage of survivors is essentially cut in half. For instance, about 40 percent of those diagnosed are still alive within one year of diagnosis. The following year, that number is divided into approximately 20 percent of survivors. And after the two-year mark, no more than ten-percent of mesothelioma sufferers are still alive.
The reasons for this poor survival rate—even in comparison with other types of cancer—are multiple and somewhat complex.
Perhaps first and foremost is the long latency period of the illness, which plays a major role by leaving people who are most at risk unsuspecting. The amount of time that transpires between the catalyst behind more than 90 percent of mesothelioma cases—asbestos exposure—and the actual onset of illness is unusually long (anywhere from 10 to 50 years or even more). Thus, its victims rarely pay attention to the very ambiguous symptoms of early-stage meso, which often consist of seemingly innocuous things like a persistent cough and hoarse voice. Therefore, by the time medical care is sought, the cancer is usually in its late stages and very difficult or even impossible to treat.
Most medical experts agree that early detection is key to improving the mesothelioma survival rate. Fortunately, public knowledge of the asbestos-meso connection is now at an all-time high. Indeed, it is difficult not be at least somewhat educated on mesothelioma and its chief causative factor in today’s modern world. The hope is that those at risk now know that they are at risk and that they will be vigilant in monitoring their health and seek medical evaluation when any early warning signs are noticed.
Another major element in the fight to improve the mesothelioma survival rate is the advancement and development of new treatment options. Traditional mesothelioma treatment methods include surgery, chemotherapy and radiation. But modern medical science is now moving outside of the conventional treatment box and exploring alternative and holistic modalities, aimed at attacking cancer in a different way.
Perhaps the most promising alternative treatment method, currently in clinical trials and also being tested on other forms of cancer, is immunology. The revolutionary technique—which triggers the immune system to eliminate cancer cells—was just named by a journal published by the American Association for the Advancement of Science “Breakthrough of the Year.” The article, in the December 2013 issue of Science, touted the much-researched form of therapy as a new frontier in the war on cancer, stating that a “corner” had been turned.
Immunotherapy is currently being tested in the context of several different cancer forms, with mesothelioma being just one of them. While no conclusive results yet exist to confirm the long-term effectiveness of using immunotherapy to improve the mesothelioma survival rate, the medical science community and cancer researchers around the world have expressed tremendous hope for the future.