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Mesothelioma Life Expectancy

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This page was medically reviewed by Dr. James Stevenson, M.D. on February 6, 2019. For information on our content creation and review process read our editorial guidelines. If you notice an error or have comments or questions on our content please contact us.

Dr. James Stevenson, M.D. Thoracic Medical Oncologist

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Dr. James Stevenson, M.D.

Average life expectancy for mesothelioma patients is 12 – 21 months. How long a patient lives depends on several factors, including age, stage of the disease and overall health. Approximately 40% of patients live past one year, and 9% live longer than five years.

Malignant mesothelioma is an aggressive form of cancer with symptoms that don’t typically show up until the later stages. Life expectancy for mesothelioma patients is generally short, especially without treatment, and varies significantly from patient to patient based on a number of individual factors and circumstances. Long-term survival is extremely rare, with fewer than 10% of patients living beyond five years. Early detection and quality health care are the most important factors in improving one’s prognosis.


Factors Affecting Life Expectancy

The life expectancy of a mesothelioma patient is difficult to determine, as it depends on a variety of factors.

Stage

An early mesothelioma diagnosis can improve life expectancy significantly. When diagnosed at an early stage (stage 1 or stage 2), there is little or no spreading, and treatments are likely to be more effective. However, at stages 3 and 4, the mesothelioma has spread to the lymph nodes and distant organs, which makes treatment more difficult.

Location

Location is another factor that strongly influences life expectancy. Testicular mesothelioma is very rare but has the greatest potential for cure, with a 5-year survival rate of nearly 50%. Of the other mesothelioma types, peritoneal mesothelioma generally has the best prognosis with an average survival of one year, while malignant pleural mesothelioma patients typically survive 6 – 12 months. Pericardial mesothelioma has the least favorable life expectancy and is often diagnosed posthumously, though detection and life expectancy are improving due to the development of more effective diagnostic tools and treatments.

Cell Type

Mesothelioma can be categorized into three different cell types: epithelioid, sarcomatoid, and biphasic (a mixture of both epithelioid and sarcomatoid cells). Typically, those with epithelioid mesothelioma have a significantly longer life expectancy than those with sarcomatoid mesothelioma, due to slower metastasis of the cancer cells and better responsiveness to treatment. Those with biphasic mesothelioma have a varied life expectancy depending on which cell type is dominant.


Life Expectancy by Mesothelioma Cell Type

Generally, older mesothelioma patients have shorter life expectancies, in part because they are in poorer health and the disease is likely to be at a later stage, however, this may also be due to the fact that fewer older patients are offered treatments for their mesothelioma. One study showed that individuals diagnosed with pleural mesothelioma before the age of 65 lived almost four months longer than those diagnosed at age 65, and more than eight months longer than those diagnosed at age 75 or older.

Patient Age, Sex and Overall Health

Pleural Mesothelioma Life Expectancy by Age at Diagnosis
Up to 65 years 12 months
65+ years 8 months
75+ years < 4 months

In general, women diagnosed with mesothelioma live about 5.5 months longer than men with mesothelioma, and there are more diagnosed cases in men than women. The difference in gender is likely due to men holding more high-risk asbestos occupations during the height of its use. For men, women and cancer patients of all ages, overall health can also greatly affect life expectancy. Those with good health are more likely to withstand aggressive treatments and live longer, while those with poor health or existing conditions have fewer treatment options available and face a shortened life expectancy.

Other Factors Affecting Mesothelioma Life Expectancy

Many other factors can go into determining a patient’s life expectancy. However, to what extent these factors affect life expectancy can vary significantly from individual to individual. Factors that could have a negative impact include:

  • A history of smoking
  • Elevated white blood cell count
  • Low hemoglobin level
  • High platelet count

Life Expectancy and Mesothelioma Treatment

Patients diagnosed with early-stage mesothelioma may be able to undergo aggressive treatments, like surgical removal of the tumor combined with chemotherapy and radiation. Mesothelioma surgery is an extensive procedure, so the patient must be in good health. For elderly patients or those in the late stages of their diagnosis, surgery may not be a viable option. When developing a treatment program, the mesothelioma specialist will assess the patient’s health and ability to undergo such treatments. If possible, aggressive treatments may extend life expectancy and improve long-term survival.

Mesothelioma Life Expectancy Without Treatment

Patients may decide not to undergo treatments for their mesothelioma if the cancer is very advanced and causing severe symptoms, if treatment is too financially difficult or for other personal reasons. Denying treatment complicates the question of how long do you live after being diagnosed with mesothelioma. Studies suggest that on average, malignant mesothelioma patients who do not undergo treatment typically live just over six months. For those diagnosed at an early stage, survival can extend to over one year. However, as with treated cases, survival can vary greatly based on staging and cell type, location, patient characteristics and other factors.

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