7 Things to Know about Mesothelioma Survival Rate

MAAC StaffJanuary 11, 2018
mesothelioma survival rate

Looking at isolated statistics, like mesothelioma survival rates, can be disheartening, and don’t paint the whole picture for how long someone diagnosed can expect to survive. To help make all the statistics and data easier to digest and understand, we compiled a list of 7 basic facts about mesothelioma survival rate.

What is Survival Rate?

Survival rate, prognosis and life expectancy are related terms that can often be confused for one another, since each relates to the same general idea: how long can patients expect to live once diagnosed with mesothelioma or another condition. But when looking at the numbers, confusing these terms can make it difficult for patients to understand their own expected survival or see beyond the data.

Survival rate indicates the portion of people with the same type of cancer, for instance, pleural mesothelioma, who survived a certain amount of time after diagnosis. Essentially, survival rate is a statistic that can provide a bigger picture of what a patient may expect in terms of length of overall survival and if their treatment may be successful.

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Survival Rate Alone Can Be Misleading

Considering these statistics on their own, however, can be a bit misleading. Survival rates are data estimates looking at a wide array of patients during the particular time frame, like 1 year or 5 years after diagnosis. This data doesn’t take into consideration any of the individual factors that influence how long an individual could survive, such as their overall health or the stage of the disease.

Survival rates may also be skewed due to the lack of data available, especially for a rare cancer like mesothelioma that only has around 2,400 – 2,800 new cases each year. For mesothelioma, much of the national survival rate data includes up to around 2014. While this is still rather current information, it may leave the most current research and treatments unaccounted for, possibly making survival rates appear lower than they actually are.

So while patients and their families look at these statistics, they should also keep in mind this only shows part of the picture. Individual prognosis or life expectancy will be more specific to the patient, as the doctor will be able to assess how the disease is expected to progress and treatment opportunities based on specific patient characteristics, like age and gender, in combination with diagnosis-specific details like cell type.

Understanding Overall Mesothelioma Survival

When looking at the broad spectrum, mesothelioma survival statistics can be rather intimidating. Across all mesothelioma patients in the United States, regardless of what type and the stage of cancer, only 55% of patients survive one year after diagnosis. After three years, only about one-third of patients are expected to survive. The 5-year survival rate is only estimated at about 9%.

These isolated statistics are understandably disheartening and can be difficult to come to terms with. The good news is each patient’s case is unique, and there are a number of factors that can indicate a better chance of long-term survival. The disease progresses differently in each individual, and treatment can also greatly influence one’s likelihood of survival.

Factors Impacting Your Survival

As previously mentioned, there are a number of factors that go into determining an individual’s expected survival and there is no one answer for how long mesothelioma patients will live. All these factors together will help a mesothelioma doctor determine how the disease will progress, what treatment options are available, and ultimately, the patient’s expected survival.

The stage of mesothelioma when diagnosed is one of the most important factors in determining survival rate. Early-stage mesothelioma, such as stage 1 mesothelioma, indicates a smaller tumor size and that the cancer is localized to one part of the body. This makes it much easier to treat, and patients see a better survival of on average 1.5 to 3 years after diagnosis. Unfortunately, most mesothelioma patients aren’t diagnosed until a later stage that has more limited treatment options. Stage 4 mesothelioma patients, for example, on average survive only about 12 months as the cancer has likely spread to the lymph nodes and other parts of the body.

Type and cell type of mesothelioma also significantly impact mesothelioma survival rate. Pleural mesothelioma, which originates in the lungs, is the most common type but doesn’t have the best survival rate. Researchers estimate about 73% of patients survive one year, but survival drops drastically to just 23% at three years after diagnosis. Peritoneal mesothelioma, which affects the abdomen, isn’t as common but has the best survival rates of all the types. About 92% of patients survive one year after diagnosis, with still about 65% of patients surviving at least 5 years after diagnosis. Since pericardial mesothelioma is the rarest and often not even discovered until posthumously, survival rates are much poorer, with only 51% of patients surviving one year.

With cell type, epithelioid mesothelioma responds the best to treatment, so generally indicates a better survival. Overall, patients with peritoneal mesothelioma with epithelioid cells have the longest survival, on average about 54 months. Sarcomatoid cells are the rarest, don’t respond well to treatment, and are known to spread aggressively. Patients with sarcomatoid mesothelioma have a median survival of only around 5 months. Biphasic mesothelioma, which is a mix of epithelioid and sarcomatoid cells, has varied survival, depending on which cell type is more predominant.

Survival can also be impacted by a number of characteristics like the patient’s age, gender, and genetics.

How to Improve Survival Rate

Though early detection is the best way to improve expected survival, it isn’t always possible because of how mesothelioma develops. A long latency period after asbestos exposure and nonspecific symptoms can lead to misdiagnosis and ultimately delay treatment. As such, having the appropriate treatment plan is crucial to extending survival.

Treatment has the potential to extend survival by years, especially if patients are able to withstand more aggressive treatment options like extensive surgery. For peritoneal mesothelioma patients who undergo cytoreductive surgery combined with a heated chemotherapy wash called hyperthermic intraperitoneal chemotherapy (HIPEC), survival rates can be as high as 67% of these patients surviving 5 years or more beyond diagnosis. Pleural mesothelioma patients who underwent surgery in combination with chemotherapy also saw survival rate improve by about 20% compared to patients who only undergo chemotherapy. Clinical trials can also offer patients the chance to try promising new treatments that have the potential to extend survival when conventional treatments may not be working for their case.

It is Possible to Beat the Odds

Though the survival rates may paint a rather bleak picture, it is possible to beat the odds. While there aren’t nearly as many long-term survivors of mesothelioma compared to other types of cancer, there have still been some who have lived well beyond their initial poor prognosis. Heather Von St. James, for example, is a 12-year mesothelioma survivor, though her initial prognosis was just 15 months. As a new mom, Heather decided to seek out aggressive treatment in the hopes of extending her life that combined invasive surgery, heated chemotherapy and radiation. Though grueling, the treatment has helped Heather live beyond even her best prognosis.

Stephen Henley was first diagnosed with pleural mesothelioma in 1999 and underwent surgery followed by radiation therapy. After three months of recovery from treatment, life essentially went back to normal for Henley and he has been in remission ever since. Other patients have seen hope in treatment through clinical trials after Mavis Nye went into remission following inclusion in an immunotherapy clinical trial. When the trial began, Mavis saw it as a last hope after she stopped responding to regular chemotherapy. After the trial, Mavis has been in remission for over a year. Other patients have seen success with immunotherapy, and there continues to be a lot of research around the promising treatment.

Mesothelioma Survival Rates Are Improving

Within the last few years especially, mesothelioma research has had some great advancements in new ways to diagnose and treat the disease, like biomarkers in the blood for earlier diagnosis and the potential of immunotherapy. Thanks to these promising advancements, survival rates for both pleural and peritoneal mesothelioma have improved slightly in recent years.

Hopefully, as research continues and doctors can continue to improve current treatments and develop new ones, survival rates will continue to improve. One day, researchers around the world hope to find a cure. Until then, it’s important for people to be aware of the dangers of asbestos and for patients to be well informed on the disease and all of their treatment options to extend survival.