When you go into remission from mesothelioma, it means that doctors can’t find any evidence of mesothelioma in your system. Patients can live for years in remission, showing no signs of cancer.
Mesothelioma Remission Explained
Remission does not mean that your mesothelioma is cured. It means that there is no evidence that you still have cancer. Your treatment has successfully removed visible signs of mesothelioma.
However, odds are that you still have a few mesothelioma cells in your body. At some point in the distant future, your mesothelioma could come back.
When you are in remission, you may not receive any treatment. But you will have regular follow-up appointments. These follow-up visits involve testing for signs of mesothelioma. If anything is found, your doctor will start treatment as soon as possible. How often you are seen after being in remission depends on your doctor. If your doctor thinks your chances of relapsing are high, you will probably have more follow-up appointments.
Remission Versus Cure
Most doctors shy away from the word cure when it comes to cancer. To doctors, the word “cure” means there is absolutely no more disease in your body. Instead of being cured, cancer doctors like to say that you are in remission. This is because of the chance that the cancer could come back.
This is true even when tests show no signs of mesothelioma. Tests may show no signs of mesothelioma because blood tests and imaging technology are limited. These tests only reveal larger signs of mesothelioma.
The time before the cancer comes back is when you are believed to be in remission. Some achieve this and go on to lead productive lives. People in remission are often called mesothelioma survivors.
Chances of Remission
Although survival rates for mesothelioma are on the low end, treatments are getting better. The best treatment for mesothelioma combines more than one kind of treatment. For example, patients who have surgery with chemotherapy may have no visible signs of mesothelioma afterwards.
Mesothelioma isn’t the death sentence it used to be. It is not unheard of these days for people to live for years with their disease in remission.
Only a mesothelioma specialist can help you achieve remission. There are currently many life-saving strategies for treating mesothelioma. These include aggressive surgeries, radiation, chemotherapy and some experimental therapies.
People who join a clinical trial are often offered the latest in treatments for mesothelioma. These are treatments that could one day lead to remission from the disease. Some emerging therapies that are getting close to offering patient remission include immunotherapy and intraoperative photodynamic therapy.
Treatments That Can Lead To Remission
Surgery is the first step to achieving remission. Almost all patients in remission also have chemotherapy, radiation and/or some other novel form of treatment. Below are the treatments that can lead to mesothelioma remission.
Your best chances of going into remission is to remove all mesothelioma tumors. Surgeons may remove the tumors as well as nearby lymph nodes. Removing nearby lymph nodes can prevent spreading of the disease after surgery.
There are 3 surgical treatments for mesothelioma. These include:
- Extrapleural pneumonectomy (EPP)
- Pleurectomy with decortication (P/D)
- Cytoreductive surgery with HIPEC
Currently, the average person with mesothelioma lives only about 12 months after being diagnosed. But the latest advances in surgery have improved the survival rates greatly. Nowadays, patients with pleural mesothelioma who have the EPP procedure may live at least 19 months after being diagnosed. People with peritoneal mesothelioma who have the cytoreductive procedure with HIPEC have the chance of living many years after having the procedure.
A patient’s chances of remission don’t lie solely with surgery. They also need other treatments to kill microscopic mesothelioma cells that surgeons can’t see.
There are many types of chemotherapy for mesothelioma. Some have developed over the years through successful clinical trials. When mesothelioma treatment was first developed, chemotherapy only extended survival by a few months. The introduction of preoperative and intraoperative chemotherapy changed things. By introducing chemotherapy during surgery, patients began living years beyond the average.
This is especially true for patients who have peritoneal mesothelioma. They have a procedure called cytoreduction with HIPEC. HIPEC stands for “heated intraperitoneal chemotherapy.” First the surgeon removes all visible signs of mesothelioma. Then they apply heated chemotherapy into the abdomen at the time of surgery. Many patients who have this treatment early enough go into remission.
Many patients with mesothelioma have radiation therapy. Sometimes surgeons apply radiation directly to the area inside the body where they removed the tumors. One experimental type of radiation therapy uses heavy doses of radiation before an EPP. Many patients who have had this type of treatment have reached remission.
Radiation alone rarely produces a state of remission. Along with surgery and chemotherapy, radiation is a viable option for people who are aiming to go into remission. You should consult with your doctor to see if you are a candidate for radiation therapy after having mesothelioma surgery and chemotherapy.
Novel treatments include a variety of treatment methods that are given as part of a clinical trial. These treatments are still in the investigational stage, but show promise in mesothelioma treatment. Some novel treatments being explored are listed below.
- Gene therapy. This treatment literally modifies the genetic composition of healthy cells. This modification helps healthy cells attack and kill mesothelioma cells.
- Immunotherapy. This is a biologically complex treatment. It influences the patient’s immune system to start killing mesothelioma cells by introducing the patient to special antibodies. These antibodies act like triggers to the immune system.
- Angiogenesis therapy. Angiogenesis is a natural process by which humans grow blood vessels. Angiogenesis therapy for mesothelioma inhibits the formation of blood vessels in mesothelioma tumors. This prevents the tumors from growing and spreading.
A clinical trial study published in 2015 found one patient induced remission in one of its patients. The study tested immunotherapy on 10 candidates. Eight lived longer than 2 years. Two people were still living 5 years later.
Relapsing With Mesothelioma
It is possible that you will suffer a relapse after having months or even years of remission with mesothelioma. This is why some mesothelioma specialists treat it as a chronic disease. Some doctors want to be aggressive and try to eliminate all signs of mesothelioma from the start. Yet, mesothelioma still finds a way to spread.
“But through treatments which control these conditions, patients are able to live with them for extremely long periods of time,” says renowned specialist Dr. Robert Cameron.
Relapse is likely to happen eventually. This is why it is so important to have follow up appointments. At a follow up appointment, you can be retreated if there is evidence that the mesothelioma has returned.
Reaching for Remission
Aiming for mesothelioma remission is a lofty goal. There will be many people inclined to tell you it’s impossible. But there are mesothelioma survivors who prove that it is possible to reach long-term remission.
Important tips for taking control of your disease:
- Be your own advocate.
- Ask for second or third opinions.
- Push for surgical treatment.
- Research clinical trials.
Reaching remission isn’t an easy road. But if you aren’t ready to give up, there are people here to help. Talk to your mesothelioma specialist about all of your treatment options. Get more information about treatment and remission in our free Mesothelioma Veterans Guide.