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Mesothelioma Life Expectancy

Expert Fact Checked

This page was medically reviewed by 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.

James Stevenson, M.D. Thoracic Medical Oncologist

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Mesothelioma life expectancy refers to the overall survival of a patient based on factors like stage, gender and age. The average life expectancy for mesothelioma patients is approximately 12 to 21 months. However, treatments like surgery, chemotherapy and radiation may improve quality of life and increase life expectancy, depending on a patient’s individual case. Clinical trials may also serve as a viable option to improve life expectancy for patients who are eligible.


01. Overview

What Is Mesothelioma Life Expectancy?

Life expectancy is the length of time a patient can expect to survive with or without treatment. An individual’s life expectancy is based on a variety of factors, such as cell type, location and stage of the cancer. Life expectancy may also change over time depending on the efficacy of treatment and how an individual’s case develops.

Life expectancy varies on a case-by-case basis. Patients should discuss their individual case with a doctor to better understand their life expectancy and treatment options. When discussing life expectancy, patients may also hear related terms, such as prognosis and survival rate.

Defining Terms

Mesothelioma Prognosis IconPrognosis

An estimate of how an individual’s disease is expected to progress and develop, along with the likelihood of survival. 

Survival Rate

A statistic (percentage or ratio) indicating how many people live a certain amount of time after diagnosis.

02. Impacting Factors

Factors Affecting Life Expectancy

The life expectancy for mesothelioma patients is generally short and varies depending on stage, gender and age. Approximately 40% of patients live past one year, and 9% live longer than five years. Long-term survival is rare, with fewer than 10% of patients living beyond five years.

A number of factors can impact life expectancy for those diagnosed with mesothelioma, including:

  • Tumor stage
  • Location and cell type
  • Patient characteristics

Although some of these factors cannot be changed or otherwise improved, patients may be able to improve overall life expectancy through treatment.

Stage

Diagnosing and identifying mesothelioma in its early stages can improve a patient’s life expectancy. If mesothelioma is diagnosed at stage 1 or 2, the cancer has not metastasized, or spread to other areas of the body. At these earlier stages, patients have more treatment options and treatments are typically more effective. This can result in a life expectancy of approximately 19 – 21 months.

However, at stages 3 and 4, mesothelioma has spread to lymph nodes and distant organs. Patients may face more limited treatment options as a result. Life expectancy for stages 3 and 4 ranges from 12 – 16 months.

Location

The location of the cancer can also influence a patient’s life expectancy. Certain types of mesothelioma, like testicular mesothelioma, are more localized and respond more favorably to treatment than other types. Pericardial mesothelioma, however, is often the result of metastasis and is difficult to treat because it develops on the membrane around the heart. As such, pericardial mesothelioma patients generally face a shorter life expectancy than other types.

  • Pleural mesothelioma: Malignant pleural mesothelioma patients have an average life expectancy of 6 – 12 months.
  • Peritoneal mesothelioma: Patients diagnosed with peritoneal mesothelioma have an average life expectancy of one year.
  • Pericardial mesothelioma: Patients with pericardial mesothelioma face an average life expectancy of approximately six months due to the limited treatment options available for this rare form of the disease.
  • Testicular mesothelioma: This form of mesothelioma has a median life expectancy of approximately 20 – 23 months.

Cell Type

Mesothelioma can be categorized into three different cell types, including epithelioid, sarcomatoid and biphasic (a mixture of epithelioid and sarcomatoid cells).

Patients with epithelioid mesothelioma often have a longer life expectancy than those with sarcomatoid mesothelioma. This is because epithelioid mesothelioma cells respond better to treatment and are slower to metastasize. Those with biphasic mesothelioma have a varied life expectancy depending on the dominant cell type.

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

Older mesothelioma patients generally have shorter life expectancies. These patients are often in poorer health and have pre-existing health conditions that limit viable treatment options.

One study showed individuals diagnosed with pleural mesothelioma before the age of 65 lived almost four months longer than those diagnosed at age 65. The younger patients also survived more than eight months longer than those diagnosed at age 75 or older.

In general, women diagnosed with mesothelioma live approximately 5.5 months longer than men with mesothelioma. Men are also more commonly diagnosed than women. This is likely the result of men working in high-risk asbestos occupations during the height of its use.

Overall health can also affect the life expectancy of mesothelioma patients. Patients in good health are more likely to undergo aggressive treatments for improved life expectancy. Those with poor health or pre-existing conditions may have fewer treatment options available and face a shorter life expectancy.

03. Other Factors

Other Factors Affecting Mesothelioma Life Expectancy

Many other factors can determine a patient’s life expectancy. Factors that could have a negative impact on a patient’s life expectancy include:

  • A history of smoking: Although cigarette smoking does not directly lead to mesothelioma, cigarette smokers who are exposed to asbestos are approximately 50 to 84 times more likely to develop asbestos-related lung cancer.
  • Elevated white blood cell count: White blood cell count typically indicates the body fighting against a pre-existing condition or blood cancer, which can make mesothelioma more difficult to treat.
  • Low hemoglobin level: Low hemoglobin levels can indicate anemia, a condition many patients face when undergoing chemotherapy. This can cause patients to feel short of breath, lightheaded and tired. These symptoms can vary based on severity.
  • High platelet count: A specific type of high platelet count, known as secondary thrombosis, creates blood clots and is caused by an infection in the body. It is a common, but severe complication for cancer patients.
04. Impact of Treatment

Mesothelioma Life Expectancy With Treatment

Patients diagnosed with early-stage mesothelioma may be able to undergo aggressive multimodal treatment methods, such as surgical removal of the tumor combined with treatments like chemotherapy and radiation.

Different surgery options can provide patients with improved quality of life and ultimately may extend life expectancy.

Pleural mesothelioma patients may be able to undergo a pneumonectomy (lung-removal surgery) or pleurectomy (cancerous-tissue removal) to remove tumors and impacted tissues. Studies have found pneumonectomy followed by radiation can prevent tumor recurrence in the chest in 80 – 85% of patients, which positively impacts life expectancy.

For patients with peritoneal mesothelioma, debulking surgery to remove cancerous tumors can be combined with hyperthermic intraperitoneal chemotherapy (HIPEC) to improve survival. One study showed surgery combined with HIPEC resulted in a 5-year survival rate of 50%, with some studies indicating a 5-year survival rate of 67% and higher.

For elderly patients or those in the late stages of diagnosis, surgery may not be a viable option. When developing a treatment program, a mesothelioma specialist will assess the patient’s health and ability to undergo such treatments.

Clinical trials may be available for eligible patients, including those with late-stage diagnoses, to improve life expectancy. Immunotherapy has shown promise in extending life expectancy and has become a standard treatment option for mesothelioma patients after showing positive results in clinical trials.

While conventional treatments such as surgery, radiation and chemotherapy are standard methods of improving a patient’s life expectancy, there are complementary methods that may also help:

  • Leading a healthy lifestyle with proper exercise and diet may help patients while undergoing treatment.
  • Undergoing alternative treatment methods as part of a multimodal treatment plan may help patients manage symptoms and improve quality of life.

Every patient’s treatment plan is different, and patients should consult with a doctor and family on these decisions.

05. Impact of No Treatment

Mesothelioma Life Expectancy Without Treatment

Studies suggest malignant mesothelioma patients who do not undergo treatment typically live six months. Patients diagnosed at an early stage may survive more than one year without treatment. However, as with treated patients, survival can vary based on staging, cell type and location, patient characteristics and other factors.

Patients may decide to forego treatment for a variety of reasons, including if the cancer is in advanced stages. Foregoing treatment can shorten life expectancy. Patients should discuss all their treatment options before making a decision.

06. Common Questions

Common Questions About Mesothelioma Life Expectancy

How long can you live after being diagnosed with mesothelioma?

The average mesothelioma life expectancy is 12 – 21 months. Life expectancy can vary based on other factors, such as mesothelioma type, stage, patient age and overall health.

Can stage 1 mesothelioma be cured?

There is no cure for mesothelioma, though there are treatment options that can help improve prognosis.

How long can you live with stage 4 mesothelioma?

The average life expectancy for patients with stage 4 mesothelioma is one year. However, life expectancy by stage can vary based on factors such as mesothelioma type.

Can mesothelioma life expectancy be improved?

Treatment options may be able to improve a patient’s life expectancy. Multimodal treatments combining surgery, chemotherapy and radiation have shown particular success.

What is the difference between life expectancy and prognosis?

Life expectancy is the length of time a patient is expected to live. Prognosis is how the disease is likely to progress.
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