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Mesothelioma Patients Who Undergo Radical Surgery Tend To Live Longer, Study Suggests

New Treatment for Mesothelioma

A new retrospective study of more than 600 mesothelioma patients who underwent radical surgery for mesothelioma involving removal of a lung, part of the diaphragm and tissue lining the chest and heart, suggests that aggressive mesothelioma treatment combining tumor removal, radiation and chemotherapy extends the lives of a significant number of cancer patients.

Mesothelioma is an aggressive cancer associated with inhaling asbestos dust, often in a workplace. Approximately 2,500 to 3,000 Americans are diagnosed with mesothelioma each year. Surgery remains the best option for removing visible mesothelioma tumors in the lining of the lung. But extensive surgery such as an extrapleural pneumonectomy carries its own risks and quality of life issues so it’s not suitable for all mesothelioma patients.

The 2011 study, authored by thoracic surgeon David J. Sugarbaker and fellow researchers at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, examined the records of 636 patients in the International Mesothelioma Patient Data Registry who underwent extrapleural pneumonectomies from 1988 to 2007. Of the total group, 18 percent of the patients (117) lived at least three years after the surgery—longer than the average life expectancy for mesothelioma patients. The study was published in the European Journal of Cardiothoracic Surgery

The median survival for the 117 patients was 59 months, in fact. A third of the three-year survivors were female patients. More than half had mesothelioma on the left side of the chest. The longer term survivors tended to be younger patients in their 50s with the epithelial-type tumors.

The study concluded that a significant proportion of mesothelioma patients undergoing extrapleural pneumonectomies experienced extended survival. The data supported the procedure to remove visible tumors as part of a combination therapy. While many of the longer-term survivors were healthier and had more favorable prognostic factors from the outset, the researchers note that the three-year survivors include a substantial number of patients with late stage disease. That may offer a ray of hope to some mesothelioma patients diagnosed with advanced cancer that in some cases there are procedures to extend their lives.

The respiratory disease is difficult to diagnose because mesothelioma symptoms typically don’t appear until 20 to 40 years after exposure to asbestos. Patients often have advanced cancer before it is diagnosed.

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