Mesothelioma Life Expectancy
Mesothelioma cancer is an aggressive malignancy whose symptoms typically don’t manifest until later stages. Therefore, life expectancy for mesothelioma patients is generally short.
Median life expectancy for mesothelioma patients usually ranges from 12 to 21 months, depending on the stage of the disease at diagnosis, with approximately 40 percent of patients living beyond one year and 20 percent living beyond two years.
Long-term survival is extremely rare, with fewer than 10 percent of patients living beyond 5 years. Life expectancy varies greatly from patient to patient based on a number of individual factors and circumstances.
While treatment is available for most patients, doctors and cancer specialists will typically reserve aggressive therapies for those patients whose life expectancy is truly anticipated to be extended through these methods. Treatment for patients in the advanced stages of the disease is usually palliative rather than curative.
While a mesothelioma patient’s life expectancy is innately tied to prognostic and histopathological factors, a patient’s eligibility to undergo aggressive treatment is also tied to his or her ability to manage the side effects associated with these therapies. In some cases, patients who integrate holistic therapy and alternative methods of cancer treatment into traditional therapy regimens have lived beyond their original prognosis.
Though life expectancy for mesothelioma patients is still relatively short, it has steadily increased in recent years as a result of more funding being dedicated for mesothelioma research and scholarship. Improved methods of detection and innovative treatments provide hope that life expectancy will continue to improve, and participation in clinical trials can give patients access to new and experimental methods of fighting the disease.
Factors that contribute to an educated assessment of mesothelioma life expectancy are listed below.
Generally speaking, older mesothelioma patients have a shorter life expectancy. This is due in part to the relationship between a patient’s age and their overall health, the extent of the disease, and their eligibility for aggressive treatment. In a study of 167 mesothelioma patients, those diagnosed at the age of the 65 years and younger had a median life expectancy of 359 days. Those diagnosed between the ages of 65 and 74 years had a medial survival period of 242 days. Patients over the age of 75 diagnosed with malignant pleural mesothelioma had a median life expectancy of 112 days.
Because the disease has not spread extensively in stage I and II, an early diagnosis can improve life expectancy. By the time the disease reaches stage III and IV, it has progressed beyond the point of origin and other factors begin to affect patient timetables. For this reason, improving methods of mesothelioma detection and diagnosis are crucial to extending life expectancies.
Median life expectancies for patients in each stage are as follows:
- Stage I: 21 months
- Stage II: 19 months
- Stage III: 16 months
- Stage IV: 12 months
Eligibility for Aggressive Treatment
Patients diagnosed with early-stage mesothelioma may be eligible for an aggressive treatment program involving surgical resection of the tumor and adjuvant chemotherapy or radiation. The surgery is an extensive procedure, so the patient must be in generally good health and not advanced in age.
Type of Mesothelioma
Pleural mesothelioma, which occurs in the lining of the lungs, accounts for approximately 80% of all diagnoses and generally offers a more favorable prognosis. The comparatively rare peritoneal mesothelioma and pericardial mesothelioma have a shorter life expectancy.
Malignant mesothelioma occurs in three different cell types: epithelial, sarcomatoid, and biphasic (a mix of the two). Approximately 60 – 70% of mesothelioma patients have the epithelial or sarcomatoid form, while the remaining 30 – 40% have the biphasic form. Patients diagnosed with biphasic mesothelioma generally have a less favorable life expectancy (142 days) than those diagnosed with epithelial or sarcomatoid (242, 207 days, respectively) sub-classifications of the malignancy.
Women have lower rates of mesothelioma. This is due in part to occupational differences, but life expectancy in women diagnosed with mesothelioma also tends to be longer than men. In the UK, approximately 4 out of every 10 women diagnosed survive beyond one year, compared to 3.4 out of every 10 men.
Normal levels of hemoglobin and red blood cells can predict a longer period of survival with the disease. (Anemia, a decrease in hemoglobin or red blood cells, is a common side effect of mesothelioma.) Conversely, a high platelet or white blood cell count can signal a poor prognosis and reduced life expectancy. The presence of certain biomarkers in the blood may also affect life expectancy.
National Cancer Institute: Mesothelioma Fact Sheet
International Mesothelioma Program: Brigham and Women’s Hospital
Orphanet Journal of Rare Diseases Review: Malignant Mesothelioma
NIOSH. (March 2012). Malignant Mesothelioma: Mortality; Years of potential life lost. Retrieved from http://wwwn.cdc.gov/eworld/Data/Malignant_mesothelioma_all_sites_Years_of_potential_life_lost_to_age_65
NIOSH. (March 2009). Malignant Mesothelioma: Mortality; Numbers of deaths. Retrieved from http://wwwn.cdc.gov/eworld/Data/Malignant_mesothelioma_Number_of_deaths_by_sex_race_age_group_and_