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Age is No Barrier to Long-Term Mesothelioma Survival After Surgery

30164119_patientThere’s some encouraging news this week for mesothelioma patients who are considering having surgery.

An analysis conducted by researchers at Duke and Stanford Universities finds that mesothelioma surgery tends to improve survival, regardless of a patient’s age.

The Link Between Mesothelioma Treatment and Age

Malignant mesothelioma, an aggressive cancer of the membranes around the lungs, heart or abdomen, is usually triggered by exposure to asbestos. Because the disease can take decades to develop, mesothelioma is diagnosed most often in people over 65.

For mesothelioma patients who are otherwise in relatively good overall health, a multi-modal treatment approach including chemotherapy, radiation and surgery has been shown to offer the best odds of survival.

Even so, older patients are less likely to be recommended for mesothelioma surgery. But how much does age really have to do with surgical outcomes?

Comparing Mesothelioma Surgery Outcomes

To answer that question, the Stanford and Duke researchers combed the government’s Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results (SEER) database to find mesothelioma patients who had surgery between 2004 and 2010.  

They found that 32 percent of the 879 mesothelioma patients who met the inclusion criteria for surgery were actually treated with surgery. As with other studies, this one also indicated that, as a group, these patients had improved overall mesothelioma survival.

But even among eligible patients, surgery was offered less than half as often to patients older than 70. The new data analysis suggests that this may be a mistake.

“[Surgery] patients 70 years and older had improved 1-year and 3-year overall survival compared with nonoperative management,” writes Duke University surgeon and study author Chi-Fu Jeffrey Yang, MD.

In fact, mesothelioma surgery patients over 70 had a more than 20 percent 1-year survival advantage over their non-surgery counterparts. By the two year mark, almost twice as many of the 70+ surgery patients were still alive than the 70+ patients who did not have surgery.

What’s the Take Home Message?

The bottom line for mesothelioma patients is that age may not matter much when considering whether to undergo mesothelioma surgery.

“Surgical treatment is associated with improved survival compared with nonoperative management for both patients younger than 70 years and patients aged 70 years or older,” concludes Dr. Yang.

The study appears in Clinical Lung Cancer.


Yang, CFJ, et al, “Impact of Age on Long-Term Outcomes of Surgery for Malignant Pleural Mesothelioma”, March 17, 2016, Clinical Lung Cancer, Epub ahead of print

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