Peritoneal mesothelioma patients are avoiding surgery as a therapeutic option and needlessly losing out on years of survival time, a recently published study from the Medical College of Wisconsin shows.

Although the benefits are clear, surgery is not being performed on 62% of peritoneal patients, according to the study using 1973 to 2010 data from the Surveillance, Epidemiology and End Results (SEER) database. The Annals of Surgical Oncology published the study in its May journal.

“It’s unfortunate, but you can see the missed opportunity here,” said Kiran Turaga, M.D., one of the study’s co-authors and assistant professor in the division of surgical oncology at the Medical College of Wisconsin. “It’s a reason to raise awareness. Surgery is a really good option – most patients can benefit – but I think too often, it’s not being offered or recommended.”

The SEER data consisted of 1,591 peritoneal patients with a median age of 74, most of whom had metastatic disease. The overall survival rate of those who underwent cytoreductive surgery was an average of 20 months, compared to just four months for those who did not have surgery.

Recent advancements in surgery and other therapeutic options have improved everyone’s survival rate. Surgical patients, for example, had an overall survival rate of only 15 months from 1991 to 1995, but they survived an average of 38 months from 2006 to 2010.

While the most recent time period reflected a survival rate that more than doubled, the percentage of patients going without surgery remained almost the same. It was 55.8% from 1991 to 1995 and 56.8 from 2006 to 2010.

The latest surgical procedures involve a combination of radical resection of the tumor, along with hyperthermic intraperitoneal chemoperfusion (HIPEC), which is a heated chemotherapy bath of the abdominal area.

Peritoneal, which attacks the thin membrane around the abdomen, is a less common form of mesothelioma. Less than a third of those patients are diagnosed with peritoneal. The majority of the cases are pleural, which starts in the lining around the lungs. The SEER database was not specific regarding why patients were not having surgery, leaving much of it to speculation.

“The reason for this practice pattern could be varied, including nihilism for disease or treatment, misinformation, host of disease characteristics precluding therapy or data collection bias,” the authors wrote.

Turaga suggests that perhaps some patients are too weak or just refused surgery, but it could be the fact “there wasn’t the proper facility available to do it.”

When separating the patients in the study by limited/regional disease indicators, the SEER study shows that patients with radical surgery had an overall survival rate of 40 months, but only 27 months with limited surgery and 13 months with no surgery.

“It’s not surprising that survival time is greatly improved with surgery,” Turaga said. “It’s disappointing that more patients are not being given that option.”

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