Fitness, Not Age, Should Determine if Mesothelioma Surgery Is a Good Option

The type of treatment you receive for mesothelioma depends on a number of things. Among the biggest considerations is your physical condition.

Unfortunately, some doctors insist on using age as a substitute for a determination of physical fitness.

Researchers from the University of Leicester in the United Kingdom suggest that it’s unhelpful for doctors to rely on age alone in deciding whether to recommend mesothelioma surgery.

It’s unhelpful because at least some elderly patients are physically fit enough to be able to reap the benefits of mesothelioma surgery.

The researchers identified physical fitness as a better guidepost than age after a lengthy study of mesothelioma patients at Glenfield Hospital in the city of Leicester.

The researchers looked at the factors doctors there weighed when determining whether mesothelioma patients were suitable candidates for surgery. Physical fitness topped them all.

Why Mesothelioma Strikes Older People

Surgery is one the three primary treatments for mesothelioma. Chemotherapy and radiation therapy are the other two.

The big take-away from the University of Leicester study was that mesothelioma surgery can be beneficial for patients at any age.

Mesothelioma is usually associated with advanced age. The reason is that it has a latency of 10 to 50 years or longer before it onsets.

The latency period starts when you inhale or swallow tiny fibers of the mineral asbestos. Asbestos was once commonly used to insulate or fireproof many different household and industrial products. So, it was in or on a lot of items with which people would easily come into contact.

Asbestos fibers have a tendency to break free from the products containing them. The fibers float in the air or settle on clothing and furniture. If inhaled or swallowed, these fibers lodge in your lungs or stomach and remain trapped there.

After a decade or two or five, the asbestos fibers initiate changes in the cells that form your body’s mesothelium. The mesothelium is a thin tissue layer that surrounds your lungs, heart and abdominal cavity.

The changes result in healthy cells mutating into mesothelioma. Once mesothelioma gets going, it grows and spreads rapidly.

Since advanced age is characteristic of mesothelioma patients, some doctors rely mainly on the patient’s years to help decide whether to recommend surgery. The notion they have is that a patient is unlikely to be physically fit if older.

The University of Leicester researchers found that kind of generalization to be a disservice to mesothelioma patients. Nowadays, thanks to society’s keen interest in physical fitness, it’s not unusual to encounter elderly men and women who are anything but frail.

Mesothelioma Surgery Benefits Many Patients

The researcher’s work entailed evaluations of treatment decisions rendered for 282 mesothelioma patients at Glenfield Hospital between 1999 and 2015.

The researchers wanted to see how big a role patient age was playing in the decision to recommend surgery.

The researchers wondered if doctors were automatically assuming that older patients are less physically fit than younger patients. And, if so, were those same doctors leaping to the conclusion that older patients would be less capable of coping with surgery.

At Glenfield Hospital at least, neither proposition was true. The researchers found that doctors routinely examined patients for general health status and relied extensively on the results to guide treatment recommendations.

Accordingly, many patients well advanced in years were deemed appropriate candidates for surgery. Many of those elderly surgical patients did in fact benefit from going under the knife.

The researchers concluded that mesothelioma patients who are far along in years should not be dismissed as surgery candidates just because they are old.

The findings of this study were presented at the 2016 European Lung Cancer Conference in Geneva, Switzerland.