Early Detection of Mesothelioma is the Key to Increased Life Expectancy
Malignant Mesothelioma, caused by exposure to airborne asbestos fibers, is an incurable cancer involving the lining of the lung, abdomen, or heart. The latency period, the time between asbestos exposure and diagnosis, can be decades long. For many patients diagnosed 15-60 years after their initial exposure to asbestos, the disease is already in an advanced phase when they begin to suffer symptoms of shortness of breath and chest pain. At this late stage of diagnosis, the average survival time is less than a year. Although there are many factors doctors look at to determine a patient’s prognosis and life expectancy, doctors, patients, and cancer advocates are now emphasizing the importance of early detection. They all agree that in order to increase the effectiveness of treatment options leading to an increased survival time, early detection is critical. In fact, the American Cancer Society states “if you can’t prevent cancer, the next best thing you can do to protect your health is to detect it early.”
Localized Tumors Has More Treatment Options
According to the American Thoracic Society, malignant mesothelioma is a fatal disease with median survival time from first signs of illness to death of less than 12 months. However, some studies have shown that among patients where it is diagnosed early and treated aggressively, about half can expect a life expectancy of two years, and one-fifth will have a life expectancy of five years. As a comparison, for patients whose mesothelioma is advanced, only five percent can expect to live another five years. Early diagnosis of the cancer often means that the cancer will be localized, with the cancer cells found only at the body site where the cancer originated. The localized cancer would be identified as Stage 1 and can involve a surgically removable tumor. Once the cancer cells have spread beyond that original location, the mesothelioma is considered advanced and surgery is often no longer an option. The importance of early diagnosis of this cancer cannot be overemphasized. Treating a limited area of cancer is easier, and includes more treatment options, than trying to treat cancer that has spread, or metastasize, to several sites or throughout the body. Mesothelioma is typically diagnosed within three to six months of the first visit to a doctor with complaints about breathing problems or chest and abdominal pain. Anyone who has worked around asbestos is urged to see a physician for screening for malignant cancer. Screening methods are advancing, and various blood tests now exist that may identify mesothelioma. The blood tests focus on a protein in the blood which is released into the blood stream by cells. One test checks for a protein known as SMRP, or soluble mesothelin-related peptide. The biomarker measures the amount of SMRP in a person’s blood. Abnormally high levels may indicate the presence of mesothelioma.