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Mesothelioma Life Expectancy

The average mesothelioma patient’s life expectancy is 12-21 months. Mesothelioma life expectancy is a prediction a doctor makes regarding how long a patient can expect to live after a mesothelioma diagnosis. However, many factors influence this number, including mesothelioma type, stage at diagnosis, and the patient’s overall health. Doctors work with patients to improve their life expectancy through personalized treatment plans.

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What Is the Life Expectancy for Mesothelioma?

The average life expectancy for mesothelioma patients is approximately 12-21 months and varies based on factors like stage at diagnosis, mesothelioma cell type, and what type of mesothelioma the patient has.

Mesothelioma life expectancy is the predicted length of time a mesothelioma patient is expected to live after their diagnosis. Doctors determine a patient’s life expectancy as part of their overall mesothelioma prognosis (disease outlook).

Patients who respond well to mesothelioma surgery, chemotherapy, or other treatments may increase their life expectancy by several months or even years.

Life Expectancy vs Survival Rate

A patient’s doctor may also mention mesothelioma survival rates when giving a patient their prognosis. Cancer survival rate means the percentage of people still alive after a particular amount of time. In mesothelioma patients, this rate is usually given in 1-, 3-, or 5-year increments.

For example, if the 1-year survival rate for a certain group of mesothelioma patients is 50%, half of all patients in this group live at least one year after diagnosis.

Life expectancy may refer to a group of people or the individual patient and is usually given as a specific amount of time that patient is expected to live. In mesothelioma patients, this time span is usually measured in months.

If the life expectancy for a certain demographic or individual patient is 12 months, they are expected to live for 12 months after diagnosis.

Quick Facts About Mesothelioma Life Expectancy

  • The average life expectancy of mesothelioma patients is 12-21 months.
  • According to a 2017 literature review published in Lung Cancer International, more than half (54%) of the thousands of mesothelioma patients analyzed survived their first year after diagnosis.
  • The same literature review found that some of the biggest factors affecting life expectancy were age, stage at diagnosis, and cancer cell type.
  • According to the review, for the past 40 years, mesothelioma mortality rates have decreased by 0.5-2% per year.

Mesothelioma Life Expectancy Factors

There are many factors that may affect a mesothelioma patient’s life expectancy after diagnosis.

Factors that affect life expectancy include:

  • Cell type (histology)
  • Mesothelioma stage
  • Mesothelioma type
  • Overall patient health
  • Patient age
  • Patient sex
  • Treatment
  • Year diagnosed

With so many factors influencing a patient’s life expectancy, it can be difficult for a mesothelioma specialist to predict how long a patient will actually live. However, a few factors have a particularly strong influence on life expectancy.

Mesothelioma Type

The type of mesothelioma a patient develops can greatly affect life expectancy.

The medical literature analysis conducted by medical researcher Robert Shavelle found that the life expectancy for peritoneal mesothelioma patients who received treatment was nearly twice as long as the life expectancy for pleural mesothelioma patients.

Mesothelioma can develop in different places of the body, and some places are harder to treat than others.

Generally, mesothelioma patients whose disease develops in the pericardium (the lining of the heart) have a lower life expectancy, while peritoneal (stomach lining) mesothelioma patients have the highest.

Stage

Pleural mesothelioma is the only type that is well-studied enough to be broken into mesothelioma stages. However, as a general rule, the earlier a patient is diagnosed with mesothelioma, the longer they can expect to survive.

Stage at diagnosis may affect mesothelioma life expectancy because:

  • Early-stage patients are better candidates for potentially life-extending surgery
  • Early-stage mesothelioma is further from metastasis — the process of cancer cells spreading to distant parts of the body, leading to deadly health complications

Unfortunately, about two-thirds of mesothelioma patients are diagnosed after their cancer is already advanced.

Cell Type

Mesothelioma is grouped into three main mesothelioma cell types based on how the cancer cells look and behave. The type of cancer cells that make up a patient’s mesothelioma tumors can have a major impact on a patient’s life expectancy.

Median Life Expectancy by Cell Type

Epithelioid

Sarcomatoid

Biphasic

12-24 months 6 months 12 months

The three different types are:

  • Epithelioid: This cell type spreads slowly and is the easiest to treat, offering the best median life expectancy of 12-24 months. Epithelioid cells are the most common type of mesothelioma cells, making up more than half of all mesothelioma cases, as reported by the American Cancer Society (ACS).
  • Sarcomatoid: Sarcomatoid cells spread aggressively and carry the shortest median life expectancy — just 6 months. However, the sarcomatoid cell type is far less common than epithelioid mesothelioma. About 10%-20% of mesothelioma patients have this type.
  • Biphasic: Mesothelioma with a combination of epithelioid and sarcomatoid cells is known as a biphasic cell type. It has a median life expectancy of around 12 months. The more epithelioid cells in the combination, the better the life expectancy. The biphasic type makes up the remaining 20%-30% of mesothelioma cases.

Cell type tells doctors how quickly a patient’s mesothelioma is likely to spread and what treatments may work best for the individual.

Other Life Expectancy Factors

Mesothelioma life expectancy may be affected by many factors unrelated to the patient’s cancer. Various studies have shown characteristics of the patients themselves, may influence life expectancy — sometimes considerably.

Other life expectancy factors include:

  • Age: Mesothelioma patients under 45 tend to have the longest life expectancy after diagnosis. Dr. Shavelle’s Lung Cancer International literature analysis found that age was one of the biggest factors affecting life expectancy in mesothelioma patients.
  • Sex: Women with mesothelioma are consistently shown to live longer on average than their male counterparts, even when variables such as mesothelioma type are taken into account. This may be because men tend to be more heavily exposed to asbestos or because women tend to develop the disease at a younger age. However, studies such as Characteristics of Malignant Pleural Mesothelioma in Women, published in the Society of Thoracic Surgeons, indicated that estrogen may play a role.
  • Overall health and lifestyle choices: Mesothelioma patients who are in otherwise good health and do not smoke tend to have a longer life expectancy on average. Such patients are more fit for life-extending surgeries and tend to remain healthier longer.

While many factors are out of a mesothelioma patient’s control, maintaining health may help extend an individual’s life expectancy after diagnosis.

Pleural Mesothelioma Life Expectancy

Compared to other forms of mesothelioma, the life expectancy for someone with pleural mesothelioma is about average. Pleural mesothelioma patients can expect to live roughly 12 months after diagnosis.

However, the stage at which they are diagnosed may influence life expectancy dramatically.

Pleural Mesothelioma Life Expectancy by Stage

Stage

Life Expectancy

Stage 1

21-51 months

Stage 2

19-26 months

Stage 3

15-16 months

Stage 4

8-12 months

Stage 1 Mesothelioma Life Expectancy

Stage 1 mesothelioma is contained to the lining (pleura) of one lung, giving doctors the best chance to remove the tumor through life-extending surgery and other treatments like chemotherapy.

Stage 1 pleural mesothelioma patients have a median life expectancy of 21-51 months.

Stage 2 Mesothelioma Life Expectancy

During stage 2 mesothelioma, the tumor remains on one side of the body but has started spreading beyond the lung lining into deeper tissues and nearby lymph nodes. Life-extending surgeries are usually still available.

Stage 2 pleural mesothelioma patients have a median life expectancy of 19-26 months.

Stage 3 Mesothelioma Life Expectancy

In stage 3 mesothelioma, the cancer has spread even farther in the lung tissue and surrounding area. It is contained to nearby lymph nodes.

Some patients in otherwise good health may still be eligible for life-extending surgery, but most treatment options are palliative in nature.

Stage 3 pleural mesothelioma patients have a median life expectancy of about 15 months.

Stage 4 Mesothelioma Life Expectancy

By the time a patient develops stage 4 mesothelioma, the tumor has spread to the other side of their chest and to distant areas in their body through a process known as metastasis.

Most treatments at this stage aim to ease symptoms, although chemotherapy, clinical trials, and/or other treatments may still help some patients live longer.

The median life expectancy for a patient diagnosed with stage 4 pleural mesothelioma is 8-12 months.

Peritoneal Mesothelioma Life Expectancy

The second most common type of mesothelioma is peritoneal mesothelioma. The life expectancy for peritoneal mesothelioma patients is around 5 years, according to Shavelle’s study.

According to a 2017 medical literature review published in the Annals of Translational Medicine, patients who are good candidates for the aggressive cytoreduction with hyperthermic intraperitoneal chemotherapy (HIPEC) procedure have a median life expectancy of 53 months.

Did You Know?

The longest mesothelioma survival time on record is 20 years and counting. Paul Kraus has not only survived peritoneal mesothelioma for decades — he also survived the Holocaust.

Peritoneal mesothelioma symptoms can be vague, making the disease difficult to diagnose early. However, peritoneal mesothelioma tends to spread more slowly than other types, can be treated more aggressively because it is not near vital organs, and tends to remain in the abdomen even after it has metastasized.

Pericardial Mesothelioma Life Expectancy

Extremely rare, pericardial mesothelioma accounts for around 1% of all mesothelioma cases. Most cases aren’t discovered until after an autopsy has been performed.

When patients are diagnosed with pericardial mesothelioma, the disease has typically already progressed to an advanced stage. It is also difficult to treat because of its location near the delicate heart.

Therefore, pericardial mesothelioma patient life expectancy is the shortest of all mesothelioma types, averaging just 6 months.

However, a successful pericardiectomy (removal of part or all of the lining of the heart) combined with chemotherapy and other treatments may extend a patient’s life.

Testicular Mesothelioma Life Expectancy

Testicular mesothelioma may be the rarest type, with less than 100 cases ever reported, according to a 2017 literature review published in the journal Molecular and Clinical Oncology.

Testicular mesothelioma is often diagnosed while a patient is undergoing surgery for what is mistaken as a hernia.

Best results are often achieved with an orchiectomy — the removal of the testes and any nearby cancerous tissue. A medical literature review published in the journal Cancer found that patients who received this procedure only saw their cancer return around 11% of the time.

According to the Cancer literature review, the median life expectancy for testicular mesothelioma after surgery was around 23 months.

Treatment to Improve Mesothelioma Life Expectancy

One of the best ways patients can improve their life expectancy is by making sure they are treated by a mesothelioma specialist at a top mesothelioma cancer treatment cancer.

The medical professionals at these centers are highly experienced and able to perform specialized treatments for mesothelioma that may not be available at other cancer centers.

Mesothelioma can be difficult to treat, but successful treatment may extend a patient’s life by months or even years.

Surgery

When mesothelioma is diagnosed at an early enough stage and a patient is otherwise fit, doctors usually recommend mesothelioma surgery to physically remove as much of a patient’s mesothelioma as possible. Surgeons generally pair surgery with chemotherapy and/or radiation to wipe out as much of the cancer as possible.

In some cases, this may send the mesothelioma into remission, meaning that tests cannot find any signs of the cancer.

Surgeries aimed at improving life expectancy include:
  • Extrapleural Pneumonectomy (EPP)

    The affected 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 inside of the chest and lining the lungs may be removed.

  • Cytoreduction with HIPEC

    As much of the cancer as possible is removed from the abdomen. Heated chemotherapy drugs are then inserted into the abdomen right after.

While a patient’s mesothelioma may remain dormant for months or even years, greatly extending their life expectancy, it is usually not possible to remove every cancer cell in a patient’s body. The patient’s mesothelioma nearly always returns.

Chemotherapy

Most mesothelioma patients are diagnosed too late to undergo the most invasive life-extending surgeries, so mesothelioma chemotherapy is the main treatment for most patients.

According to the ACS, “more studies are needed to find the best drugs and the best way to use chemo[therapy].”

However, chemotherapy’s effectiveness for mesothelioma patients is uncertain.

Multimodal Treatment Plans

Most mesothelioma specialists seem to agree that combining more than one treatment (known as a multimodal approach) is the most effective way to increase a patient’s life expectancy.

The ACS notes that the best chemotherapy results are currently achieved when paired with surgery. However, mesothelioma’s rarity makes it difficult for doctors to compare the effectiveness of different treatments.

Ultimately, doctors are still studying the most effective ways to use chemotherapy and radiation with surgery.

Clinical Trials

Clinical trials are controlled research studies done to develop promising new treatments.

Medical advancements and new research being conducted through these trials provide mesothelioma patients — especially late-stage patients — with opportunities to extend their life expectancy.

One study suggested that some mesothelioma patients who participated in clinical trials have a longer survival time than similar patients who did not.

Other Treatment Options

As clinical trials help develop new ways to fight mesothelioma, patients have more treatment options than ever. However, not all treatments are available to or helpful for all patients.

Other mesothelioma treatment options that may extend life expectancy include:

  • Radiation Therapy: Treating mesothelioma with radiation therapy can be difficult because mesothelioma tends to spread across the organs instead of forming one large tumor. Doctors may find it difficult to aim radiation at one spot without damaging nearby healthy tissue. However, according to the ACS, recent advancements that allow for more control of radiation may improve the treatment’s effectiveness against mesothelioma.
  • Targeted Therapy: Researchers have learned enough about the characteristics of mesothelioma cancer cells to develop new drugs that may be able to target and destroy the cancer while ignoring healthy cells. The FDA has already approved one targeted therapy drug for certain mesothelioma patients, and several targeted therapy clinical trials are currently available to other mesothelioma patients.

Alternative Therapies and Mesothelioma Life Expectancy

Some mesothelioma patients are also interested in the life-extending possibilities of alternative therapy such as acupuncture and herbal remedies.

There is little to no scientific evidence that these treatments will improve the life expectancy of mesothelioma patients. Furthermore, some alternative therapies may negatively interact with a patient’s prescribed medications or have other harmful effects, lowering survival.

Alternative therapy may help some individuals cope with their symptoms and the emotional challenges of a mesothelioma diagnosis, but patients should speak with their doctor before trying any alternative therapies.

Mesothelioma Life Expectancy Without Treatment

The average life expectancy of mesothelioma patients who do not receive treatment is roughly 12 months.

Some mesothelioma patients only receive palliative care — treatment aimed at reducing suffering instead of extending life expectancy. However, certain patients may choose to forego treatment altogether.

Mesothelioma patients may refuse treatment for many reasons:

  • Health problems that make getting cancer treatment especially risky
  • Not wanting to live with the side effects of the suggested 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 are encouraged to talk with their doctor about all treatment options available.

Next Steps for Improving Mesothelioma Life Expectancy

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

Patients seeking to maximize their life expectancy should work with mesothelioma specialists. Experienced mesothelioma doctors are aware of the most effective treatment options for mesothelioma and work at cancer centers that offer advanced life-extending treatments as well as new treatment through clinical trials.

As treatment technology advances, mesothelioma patients should have even more options for increasing their life expectancy.

Mesothelioma Support Team
Reviewed by:Dr. Assuntina Sacco

Board-Certified Oncologist

  • Fact-Checked
  • Editor

Assuntina Sacco, MD is an Associate Professor of Internal Medicine at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD) Moores Cancer Center, where she also serves as the Medical Director of Infusion Services. She is a board-certified medical oncologist trained to treat all solid tumor types, with the use of chemotherapy, immunotherapy, targeted therapy, and clinical trials.

Dr. Assuntina Sacco is an independently paid medical reviewer.

Stephanie KiddWritten by:

Editor-in-Chief

Stephanie Kidd grew up in a family of civil servants, blue-collar workers, and medical caregivers. Upon graduating Summa Cum Laude from Stetson University, she began her career specializing in worker safety regulations and communications. Now, a proud member of the American Medical Writers Association (AMWA) and Editor-in-Chief of the Mesothelioma Justice Network, Stephanie serves as a voice for mesothelioma victims and their families.

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