New research shows that some long-term mesothelioma survivors may have few or no symptoms of the disease for years.
The research appears in a recent issue of the journal Clinical Lung Cancer. A team of Finnish doctors wanted to identify the unique characteristics of long-term mesothelioma survivors.
They discovered that some of these survivors seem to have an indolent form of asbestos cancer. This suggests that it is possible for a person to live for many years with pleural mesothelioma and not even know they have it.
Typical Mesothelioma Symptoms
It is not unusual for mesothelioma patients to have no symptoms in the early stages, but long-term mesothelioma survivors are rare. Once the cancer takes hold, it usually grows quickly.
Pleural mesothelioma symptoms include chest pain, coughing, and shortness of breath. Patients may complain of fatigue and may lose weight.
By the time they receive a diagnosis, many patients have less than a year to live. There is no cure for mesothelioma and the usual cancer treatments are rarely effective. Many long-term mesothelioma survivors have been told they would die within months.
Characteristics of Long-Term Mesothelioma Survivors
The Finnish scientists set out to understand what makes long-term mesothelioma survivors unique. They focused on 43 pleural mesothelioma patients who lived for at least five years. They compared these patients with 84 other patients with epithelioid mesothelioma.
First, the researchers confirmed that the long-living patients really did have mesothelioma. They asked specialists to review each case. The specialists looked again at their diagnostic samples and CT scans.
Only one of the long-term mesothelioma survivors turned out not to have mesothelioma. The rest fell into several broad categories.
“Long-term survivors were younger, more frequently female, had a better performance status at time of diagnosis, and had less evidence of prior asbestos exposure,” writes lead author Juuso Paajanen.
When the authors considered all of the survival factors, three things stood out. The long-term mesothelioma survivors had smaller tumors and few other health problems. They also tended to have aggressive first-line treatment with surgery and chemotherapy.
Mesothelioma Without the Symptoms?
Some of the long-term mesothelioma survivors were not very sick. Their diagnosis was accurate. But they did not develop the serious symptoms that lead to early death in so many others.
The research team concludes that some of these patients may have a slow-growing or “indolent” form of mesothelioma. “An epithelial subtype of MPM behaving clinically more indolently seems to exist, but further tumor and genetic characterization is needed,” they write.
They say extended mesothelioma survival is probably due to a combination of factors. Some of these factors have to do with the patient, some with the type of tumor, and some with the treatment.
About 2,500 Americans receive a mesothelioma diagnosis every year. Long-term mesothelioma survivors like Paul Kraus, author of Surviving Mesothelioma, give many of them hope.
Paajanen, J, et al, “Clinical Features in Patients With Malignant Pleural Mesothelioma With 5-Year Survival and Evaluation of Original Diagnoses”, Many 2020, Clinical Lung Cancer, Epub ahead of print, https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32624414/