December 2016 saw the publication of the National Lung Cancer Audit pleural mesothelioma report 2016. Prepared by the Royal College of Physicians and funded by charity Mesothelioma UK, it suggests that the number of people who survive for more than one year post-diagnosis has improved from 40 per cent to 43 per cent.
The statistical analysis relates to more than 2000 patients who were diagnosed in England during 2014. It reveals that the average age at the time of diagnosis is 75 and more than 83 per cent of those cases relate to male patients. Further, pleural mesothelioma accounts for 97 per cent of all cases, with only 70 cases of peritoneal mesothelioma, i.e. those relating to the stomach and abdomen rather than the chest and lungs, being diagnosed in 2014.
Despite the overall slight improvement, the report worryingly suggests there is a significant regional variation in the one year survival rate, ranging from around 56 per cent of patients living in the Thames Valley area, to less than 38 per cent of patients in the West Midlands. It is hoped that drawing attention to this will help to improve the service provided to patients in areas where survival rates are poorest.
The report makes several important recommendations for NHS Trusts. In particular, all patients should be given the chance to participate in clinical trials regardless of where they live. Another aim is to ensure that patients have the support of a specialist lung cancer nurse at the time they are given the distressing news of a diagnosis.
A patient called Mavis Nye shares her own experiences in the report and reveals that she had to research trials herself when previous treatments failed. Mrs Nye was exposed to asbestos fibres when washing her husband’s work clothes in the early 1960s and was diagnosed on her wedding anniversary at the age of 68. Happily now in remission, she comments "I dread to think how it would have all turned out if I wasn’t computer literate…the report provides the first details about the standard of care across our country and the variation that we, the patients, know exists. Thank you Meso UK for investing in this excellent initiative that is the first step along the road to making sure we know what is happening and where".
Sadly, the long-term prognosis remains poor for most people suffering from this terrible condition. Due to the 20 to 50 year latency period involved in the development of symptoms, it is estimated that the number of cases diagnosed in the UK is likely to peak between 2020 and 2025.