After recovering from the initial shock of being diagnosed with mesothelioma, most patients turn their thoughts to their treatment plan. Their primary goal is to kill as many of the cancer cells as possible offering them a longer, higher quality of life while battling the disease. Ultimately, mesothelioma patients want to become cancer survivors.
ACS Reports Good News for Many Cancer Patients
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Although most people associate cancer survivorship with the time after treatment ends, the American Cancer Society defines a cancer survivor as “any person who has been diagnosed with cancer, from the time of diagnosis through the balance of life.” And according to its recently released report Cancer Treatment and Survivorship Facts & Figures 2012-2013, an estimated 13.7 million Americans with a history of cancer were alive on January 1, 2012, and the ACS expects that number to continue to grow.
In fact, it estimates that by January 1, 2022, the population of cancer survivors will increase to almost 18 million. The ACS further defines survivorship by identifying three distinct phases: the time from diagnosis to the end of initial treatment; the transition from treatment to extended survival; and long-term survival.
The ACS reports death rates continue to decline for lung, colon, breast, and prostate cancers, which are responsible for the most cancer deaths. Since 1991, death rates have decreased by more than 30% for lung cancer in men, 40% for prostate cancer, and by more than 30% for colon cancer, breast cancer in women.
However, according to the ACS, a total of 1,660,290 new cancer cases and 580,350 deaths from cancer are projected to occur in the US in 2013. Close to 3,000 of those cases will be mesothelioma.
Mesothelioma Deaths Continue to Rise
In a separate report from the Minnesota Department of Health using statistics from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the number of deaths from mesothelioma has slightly increased during the latest reporting period. The report covers mesothelioma deaths in the U.S. from 1999-2010. In 1999 there were 2,484 deaths, with a steady rise until 2010 where 2,745 deaths were reported.
The authors conclude that “despite the dramatic decline in asbestos use in the U.S since the early 1970s (down from 800,000 metric tons in 1973 to 1,100 tons in 2012) and implementation of more protective occupational health standards, asbestos remains present in millions of homes, offices, and industries and represents an ongoing potential exposure hazard to both workers and the public.”
Mesothelioma is a rare form of cancer typically affecting the lining of the lungs. Caused by exposure to airborne asbestos fibers, most cases of mesothelioma are diagnosed 30 years or more after exposure. The latency period can be as long as 50 years.
In 2011, Michele Carbone, M.D., Ph.D., director of the University of Hawaii Cancer Center, reported that more than 20 million people in the United States are at risk of developing malignant mesothelioma due to asbestos exposure. In addition, he reported that malignant mesothelioma mortality rates will increase 5 to 10 percent per year in most industrialized countries until about 2020.
With recent successes in cancer research and with many new initiatives, some mesothelioma patients are realizing longer survival rates and a better quality of life. The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center is one institution that has been waging a war against cancer for years. The Center has over 30 specialists on staff that supports its multi-disciplinary approach to treating mesothelioma patients through its Mesothelioma Program. Most recently, MD Anderson started its Moon Shots Program “to dramatically accelerate the pace of converting scientific discoveries into clinical advances that reduce cancer deaths.”
In addition, other researchers have reported improved screening methods leading to early detection of mesothelioma as well as novel therapies for limiting side effects. Other breakthroughs have been made taking physicians closer to personalized treatment.