Mesothelioma Life Expectancy

Life expectancy for mesothelioma patients depends on many factors, including the location and stage of mesothelioma and the patient’s overall health. Doctors determine a patient’s life expectancy as part of their overall prognosis and work with patients to improve their life expectancy with personalized treatment plans.

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What Is the Life Expectancy for Mesothelioma?

Life expectancy ranges are generated by statistics based on patients treated for mesothelioma in recent years.

The average mesothelioma life expectancy rate is 12-21 months. However, life expectancy is unique to each patient and depends on several factors.

Factors that affect life expectancy include:

  • Mesothelioma stage
  • Mesothelioma location
  • Mesothelioma cell type (epithelioid, sarcomatoid, or biphasic)
  • Patient age
  • Overall patient health
  • Whether the patient is a smoker
  • Course of treatment and how the patient responds

Since each of these factors affects life expectancy, only a qualified mesothelioma specialist can analyze each particular case to determine a prognosis.

Mesothelioma specialists have access to treatments that can extend a patient’s lifespan. By working with a mesothelioma specialist, a patient may live past the average life expectancy.

Life Expectancy vs Survival Rate

The term “life expectancy” refers to the average period that a patient can expect to live after being diagnosed with mesothelioma. For example, if the reported median life expectancy is 12 months, half of the patients will live beyond 12 months and the other half will not.

“Survival rate” refers to the percentage of patients who survive for a specified time after diagnosis. In this situation, the 12-month mesothelioma survival rate is 50%.

While the two indicators are related, it is important to understand the difference when discussing treatment options with your medical team and reviewing information about your diagnosis.

Quick Facts

  • The average life expectancy for mesothelioma patients is 12-21 months
  • Pleural mesothelioma median life expectancy ranges from 8-51 months depending on the disease stage and other prognosis factors
  • Peritoneal mesothelioma median life expectancy is 12 months
  • Cytoreduction with HIPEC treatment often extends life expectancy by years
  • The patient’s age, gender, and overall health further affect life expectancy outcomes
  • Life expectancy can be improved by working with a mesothelioma specialist, undergoing the best treatment, and maintaining good general health

Factors That Affect Mesothelioma Life Expectancy

There are different factors that affect mesothelioma life expectancy. Victims of the disease have different life expectancies based on these factors.

Since they vary with each victim, doctors must account for each factor to predict life expectancy.

Location

Mesothelioma can develop in different places of the body. Some places are harder to treat so treatment varies for different areas. Because of this, mesothelioma life expectancy also varies based on where the disease develops.

Stage

Pleural mesothelioma is the only type that is broken into stages. This is because there is not enough information on the other types to do so. Life expectancy is higher in the first stages. As the cancer advances, life expectancy lowers.

Cell Type

Mesothelioma is grouped into three main cell types based on how the cancer cells look. The type of mesothelioma cells also affects the patient’s life expectancy.

The three different types are:

  • Epithelioid: Spreads slowly and is the easiest to treat, offering the best median life expectancy (12-24 months). Epithelioid cells are the most common type of mesothelioma cells. More than half of mesothelioma cases are epithelioid.
  • Sarcomatoid: Spreads aggressively and carries the shortest median life expectancy (6 months). Sarcomatoid is the rarest mesothelioma cell type. About 10%-20% of mesothelioma cells are sarcomatoid.
  • Biphasic: A tumor exhibiting a combination of epithelioid and sarcomatoid cells with a median life expectancy between the two (12 months). The more epithelioid cells in the combination, the better the prognosis. Biphasic makes up the remaining 20%-30% of mesothelioma cases.

Cell type tells doctors how quickly mesothelioma is likely to spread. Based on cell type, doctors may perform more aggressive treatments when dealing with cells that are metastasizing rapidly.

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Other Factors that Affect Mesothelioma Life Expectancy

Mesothelioma life expectancy can vary widely. The averages are estimates and are often based on past outcomes of many patients with mesothelioma. However, these past outcomes and averages cannot predict what will happen to everyone.

There are other factors that affect mesothelioma life expectancy:

  • Age: Younger people tend to have a longer life expectancy. Patients under 45 tend to have the longest mesothelioma life expectancy.
  • Health History: Mesothelioma patients who are in otherwise in good health and do not smoke tend to have a better outcome.
  • Sex: While women with mesothelioma live longer than men with the disease on average, this may be because men tend to be more heavily exposed to asbestos. Women are also more likely to get peritoneal mesothelioma, which has a longer life expectancy than the other types of mesothelioma.

Pleural Mesothelioma Life Expectancy

The life expectancy for pleural mesothelioma depends on which stage the cancer is discovered.

Patients with stage 1 and 2 mesothelioma are often good candidates for aggressive treatment options that offer the greatest chance of extending their life.

Stage 3 and 4 patients may, in some cases, be candidates for curative treatments — depending on their overall health and other factors. Late-stage patients will typically undergo palliative therapies to improve their quality of life.

Stage 1 Pleural Mesothelioma Life Expectancy

In stage 1 of pleural mesothelioma, cancer is contained to one area and has not spread beyond the lung lining where it originated — giving doctors the best chance to remove the tumor through curative surgery.

Stage 1 Pleural Mesothelioma Median Life Expectancy: 21 to 51 months

Stage 2 Pleural Mesothelioma Life Expectancy

In stage 2, the mesothelioma remains on one side of the body but has started metastasizing beyond the lung lining into lymph nodes, the diaphragm, or the lung. Aggressive treatment options are often still available.

Stage 2 Pleural Mesothelioma Median Life Expectancy: 19 to 26 months

Stage 3 Pleural Mesothelioma Life Expectancy

In stage 3, mesothelioma has spread to the surrounding organs and lymph nodes. Treatment options become limited at this stage, and most remaining options are palliative in nature.

Some patients in otherwise good health may still be eligible for curative procedures.

Stage 3 Pleural Mesothelioma Median Life Expectancy: 15 to 16 months

Stage 4 Pleural Mesothelioma Life Expectancy

By stage 4, the mesothelioma has spread to the other side of the body. Most treatments at this stage aim to ease symptoms. Some stage-4 patients are eligible to participate in experimental clinical trials that may extend their life.

Stage 4 Pleural Mesothelioma Median Life Expectancy: 8 to 12 months

Peritoneal Mesothelioma Life Expectancy

Peritoneal mesothelioma is the second most common location of the disease. The average life expectancy for peritoneal mesothelioma patients is 12 months.

Patients who are good candidates for the aggressive cytoreduction with HIPEC procedure may see their life expectancy extended by 5 years or longer. The longest survival on record is 19 years.

Peritoneal mesothelioma symptoms can be vague, and in many cases, the disease is not diagnosed early. If you have been exposed to asbestos, monitor your health for mesothelioma symptoms and contact a specialist at the first sign.

Pericardial Mesothelioma Life Expectancy

Pericardial mesothelioma is a rare form of the disease. Most cases aren’t discovered until autopsy.

When patients are diagnosed with pericardial mesothelioma, the disease has typically already progressed to an advanced stage. Therefore, the life expectancy is the shortest of all mesothelioma types, averaging six months.

Since pericardial mesothelioma is quite rare — accounting for 1–2% of all mesothelioma cases — aggressive surgery is often the best treatment option.

A successful operation combined with chemotherapy and other treatments may extend the patient’s life expectancy by months or even years.

Improving Life Expectancy 

Medical advancements and new research are providing patients with the opportunity to extend their life expectancy after being diagnosed with mesothelioma.

To improve life expectancy, the crucial first step is to contact a mesothelioma specialist.

Each patient presents a unique case, and an expert medical team will determine the treatment plan that offers them the longest life expectancy.

It is also vital for the patient to maintain good overall health so that their body is fit to undergo treatment and fight the cancerous cells.

The patient should discuss a general health plan with their medical team for best results. Smokers should seriously consider quitting immediately.

Surgery

When mesothelioma is diagnosed at an early stage, surgeons try to remove it. In some cases, this may send the cancer into remission, meaning that tests cannot find any signs of the disease.

However, it usually isn’t possible to remove all of the mesothelioma. In these cases, surgery may reduce the symptoms. It may also delay the mesothelioma from spreading to other parts of the body.

Some surgical options include:

  • Extrapleural Pneumonectomy: The damaged lung may be removed. This surgery also allows doctors to use higher doses of radiation on patients who receive radiation therapy.
  • Pleurectomy/Decortication (P/D): The tissue around the ribs and lungs may be removed. This may relieve symptoms.
  • Cytoreduction with HIPEC: As much of the cancer as possible is removed. Heated chemotherapy drugs are then inserted into the abdomen right after.

Multimodal Treatment Plans

A multimodal treatment plan combines more than one type of treatment. This is often the most effective course of action.

Combinations may include surgery, chemotherapy, or radiation therapy. Doctors may also suggest other treatments like gene therapy or immunotherapy.

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Clinical Trials

When all other options have been exhausted or ruled out, clinical trials may be available. In some cases, these experimental treatments extend the patient’s life expectancy.

Clinical trials are studies in which people volunteer to test new drugs or medical procedures. Since mesothelioma is rare, it has been hard for doctors to study.

Many experts agree that mesothelioma victims should consider a clinical trial regardless of the stage or type of mesothelioma they have.

There are promising new treatments being developed that may be able to help improve mesothelioma life expectancy.

Current clinical trials include:

  • Gene Therapy: adds new genes to cancer cells to make them easier to kill
  • Immunotherapy: stimulates a patient’s own immune system to fight mesothelioma
  • Photodynamic Therapy: light-based therapy
  • Vaccine Therapy: vaccines that try to get the immune system to attack the cancer

There is no single source that allows patients to find a clinical trial that they may be able to take part in. Patients should talk to their doctor about finding one that may be a good fit.

Other Health Options

There may be other options that might improve mesothelioma life expectancy. Mesothelioma patients should talk to their doctors about finding options that may help.

Some of these health options include:

  • Improve overall health: Doctors can help create a complete wellness plan to support better outcomes.
  • Quit smoking: Many studies have shown that smoking and asbestos exposure is especially dangerous. Quitting smoking can improve general health, which is known to help mesothelioma life expectancy.
  • Alternative medicines: Hypnosis, acupuncture, and traditional Chinese Medicine may help relieve some patients’ symptoms, pain, or stress.

Mesothelioma Life Expectancy Without Treatment

Without treatment, mesothelioma tends to spread rapidly. On average, patients diagnosed early with the disease will live for 2 years without treatment.

Undergoing recommended mesothelioma treatments can extend a patient’s life by several months, or even a few years, but this number varies considerably depending on other factors such as the patient’s overall health, cancer stage, and cancer cell type.

Choosing Not to Get Treatment

There are many reasons why people with mesothelioma may choose not to get treatment.

A few of those reasons may be:

  • Having health problems that make getting cancer treatment riskier than normal
  • Not wanting to live with the side effects of the suggested mesothelioma treatments
  • Religious beliefs
  • Not wanting to medically extend one’s life

Whatever the reason, anyone with the right to make their own decisions also has the right to refuse mesothelioma treatment.

However, mesothelioma patients should talk with their doctors about all treatment options available. Even if a mesothelioma patient does not wish to get curative treatments, palliative treatments can help a patient live as comfortably as possible with mesothelioma.

Regardless of whether a patient wishes to receive cancer-fighting treatment or not, it is important that they explore all options with their doctor.

Next Steps for Improving Mesothelioma Life Expectancy

Treating mesothelioma as early as possible offers patients the greatest chance of extending their life expectancy.

Working with mesothelioma specialists who are aware of the latest options and can perform the most advanced treatments is another key way to help improve a patient’s life expectancy.

If you have been diagnosed with mesothelioma, and want to know your options, start a free case review today.

Author:Stephanie Kidd

Editor-in-Chief of the Mesothelioma Justice Network

Stephanie Kidd

Stephanie Kidd works tirelessly as a dedicated advocate for the vulnerable and underrepresented. Stephanie worked as a copywriter for an agency whose focus was communicating safety procedures on construction work sites. With her extensive background in victim advocacy and a dedication to seeing justice done, Stephanie works hard to ensure that all online content is reliable, truthful and helpful.

Last modified: September 10, 2019

View 4 Sources
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  2. Case Reports in Oncological Medicine, “Primary Pericardial Mesothelioma: A Rare Entity.” Retrieved from: https://www.hindawi.com/journals/crionm/2013/283601. Accessed on January 31, 2018.
  3. Medscape, “Radical Surgery for Mesothelioma: Still Controversial.” Retrieved from: https://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/823982#vp_1. Accessed on January 31, 2018.
  4. Medscape General Medicine, “Peritoneal Mesothelioma: A Review.” Retrieved from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1994863. Accessed on January 31, 2018.
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