Life Expectancy & Survival

Mesothelioma has a poor prognosis with a 5-year survival rate of only 9%. Most mesothelioma patients have a life expectancy of about 1 year.

Key Points

  • 1

    Prognosis depends on many factors, including the stage of the mesothelioma.

  • 2

    The life expectancy for most mesothelioma patients is 1 – 2 years after diagnosis.

  • 3

    Early detection and treatment can improve mesothelioma survival rate for many patients.

  • 4

    Some with mesothelioma have beaten the odds and lived long past their prognosis.

Receiving a mesothelioma diagnosis is a life altering event for you and your loved ones. You will likely have have many questions like “What do I do now?” and “How long do I have to live?”

While the prognosis for mesothelioma is poor, with only 9% of patients surviving 5 years, the good news is that you may be able to improve your prognosis through conventional treatment methods such as surgery and radiation therapy. Also, newer experimental methods have injected new hope for those seeking to get rid of their cancer. Even if these options are not available to you, you may be able to reduce pain and improve your quality of life through palliative care.

Survival and life expectancy statistics can be cold and frightening. However, it’s important to remember that mesothelioma progresses differently in each individual. When discussing options, your doctor and your family are the best people to help you decide what is best for you. If you need help coping with your prognosis, you may find the information in our community section helpful.

Free 2017 Mesothelioma Prognosis Guide >

Mesothelioma Prognosis, Life Expectancy and Survival Rate

When discussing survival information, it is important to understand the different terms involved.

Understanding Terminology

Prognosis

A projection for how the disease is expected to progress and the overall likelihood of survival.

Survival Rate

A percentage that shows how many patients live for a given amount of time after diagnosis.

Life Expectancy

How long a patient is likely to live after diagnosis. This estimate depends on treatment success and other factors.

Statistics are based on large sample groups of people, they are not exact predictions of what will happen to you. Also, many statistics do not take into account the impact of emerging treatments, so the numbers may not be based on treatments being used today.

Coping with Your Mesothelioma Prognosis

After receiving a mesothelioma diagnosis, you will have a number of questions to answer and decisions to make:

Common Questions

  • Do I want to pursue treatment?
  • If so, what are the best treatment options for me?
  • What will the side effects of the treatment be?
  • How will I manage treatment side effects and care for myself?
  • Can I afford the treatments necessary to keep me alive?

Finding a mesothelioma specialist who can help guide you through your treatment options is one of the most important decisions you can make. They will be able to answer your questions, evaluate your individual case, and discuss the best treatment options available for you.

Conventional mesothelioma treatments like surgery, chemotherapy and radiation have been shown to positively affect prognosis. Furthermore, combining treatments using multimodal therapy improves mesothelioma survival rates even more. Treatment is often more effective in younger individuals with better overall health.

For qualified individuals, enrolling in a clinical trial can be another way to improve your life expectancy. Clinical trials are research investigations in which people volunteer to test new treatments, interventions or tests as a means to prevent, detect, treat or manage various diseases or medical conditions. Many patients have benefited from the kinds of experimental treatments researched in these trials, such as gene therapy and immunotherapy. Talk to your doctor if you’re interested in learning more about clinical trials that may be available to you.

If you choose not to pursue conventional treatment, your focus should be on palliative care. The purpose of palliative care is to ease patient symptoms, reduce pain, and improve quality of life, with no attempt to cure the underlying disease. For many patients diagnosed at a later state, palliative care is the only viable option.

Survivor Stories – Hope

Fighting and beating mesothelioma requires strength, courage, and a strong support system. The Mesothelioma + Asbestos Awareness Center works with a number of long-term mesothelioma survivors who advocate for patients, as well as a ban on asbestos.

Read Long-Term Survival Stories

Factors Impacting Your Mesothelima Prognosis

Your prognosis will be based on a number of factors, individual to you. No single statistic alone can accurately predict your life expectancy, though combined it may provide a scope into what you can expect.

The factors listed below affect your mesothelioma prognosis most directly. However, your doctor will be able to offer a better explanation of how each factor relates to your individual case.

Mesothelioma Cancer Stage

The stage of the cancer is the most important factor when determining your prognosis. Staging refers to the classification of the cancer based on how it has spread throughout a patient’s body. For instance, a stage 1 classification indicates that the cancer is localized and tumors present will likely be smaller. Stage 4, however, means the cancer may have spread widely throughout the body and patients may also have larger tumors. People diagnosed with mesothelioma at an early stage have a far better chance of long-term survival than those who discover their cancer at a later stage.

Mesothelioma Life Expectancy by Stage

mesothelioma life expectancy by stage

Mesothelioma Location

The type of mesothelioma a patient has is classified by where the cancer is located: the lungs, abdomen or heart. Along with the stage of your diagnosis, location is one of the most important indicators in determining your mesothelioma life expectancy.

Of all the types, pleural mesothelioma is the most common, but with more recent treatment advancements, peritoneal mesothelioma patients have experienced improved overall survival rates. Because pericardial mesothelioma is so rare and much harder to diagnose, it has the worst prognosis.

While many pleural and peritoneal mesothelioma patients survive for at least a year, pleural mesothelioma survival rates drop dramatically by 3 and 5 years of survival. Though fewer peritoneal patients survive at 3 and 5 years, it’s still estimated that more than half of patients on average survive 5 years. This is at least partially due to the success researchers have seen in improved treatments. While there have also been treatment advancements in pleural mesothelioma and survival rates have improved slightly from the past, there is clearly more research needed to improve current treatments and find other effective alternatives. Pericardial mesothelioma sees only about half of patients survive one year, though in many cases it is not even diagnosed until posthumously.

Mesothelioma Cell Type

A mesothelioma diagnosis will also entail the cancer cell types that are involved (epithelioid, sarcomatoid and biphasic). This aspect of the diagnosis is referred to as the histology, and it’s important for oncologists to further differentiate mesothelioma by cell type to understand how these particular tumors will react to treatment. The cell types have different growth rates and likelihood of spreading, with the rare sarcomatoid cells being the most likely to metastasize.

Life Expectancy by Mesothelioma Type

mesothelioma life expectancy by type

Note:  Because pericardial mesothelioma is so rare, there is not enough data to calculate life expectancy.

The best mesothelioma survival rates occur in people who have peritoneal (abdominal) mesothelioma with an epithelioid cell type. This subtype is the most common in mesothelioma and has the best prognosis because it is the most responsive to treatment and typically doesn’t spread as quickly. On average, epithelioid cells see a median mesothelioma life expectancy of 18 to 24 months, with many patients living well beyond 2 years as seen in the chart above for peritoneal patients especially.

Biphasic cells are the second most common, made up of a mixture of the other two cell types. Regardless of the location of the mesothelioma, the biphasic cell type has greatly varied survival rates dependent on which type of cell is more predominant. On average, studies have shown survival of about 11 – 15 months.

Sarcomatoid mesothelioma has a median survival of only 4 to 6 months, with an estimated 10% of patients surviving to 1 year. Many times when facing sarcomatoid mesothelioma, doctors will focus on palliative care because of its rapid spreading and poor response to treatment.

Patient Characteristics

Older people who are diagnosed with mesothelioma generally have poorer survival rates than those diagnosed at a younger age. Seniors often have other health conditions that can complicate treatment or limit their options. Younger people are likely to have better overall health, so their bodies may be better able to handle cancer treatment.

Fewer than 25% of mesothelioma patients are women. However, on average women live nearly 6 months longer than men who are diagnosed at the same age. The reason why women tend to have a better mesothelioma life expectancy than men is not well understood – it may have to do with the fact that women tend to have better overall health and are more likely to get symptoms checked by a doctor earlier than men.

5-Year Survival Rate By Age

Mesothelioma survival rate by age

In addition to age at diagnosis and a patient’s sex, there are several other factors that can affect mesothelioma life expectancy.

  • Genetics: Several studies have shown certain genetic factors play a role in how long mesothelioma patients survive after diagnosis. One example is patients who carry a certain mutation of the BRCA1-associated protein-1 (BAP1) gene tend to have better mesothelioma survival rates.
  • Overall Health: The healthier you are, the more likely your body will be able to fight the cancer and handle aggressive treatments that can help you get better. Exercise, good nutrition, and a strong immune system all work together to improve your prognosis.
  • Smoking History: While smoking does not cause mesothelioma, smokers who are diagnosed with mesothelioma tend to die sooner than patients who have never smoked.
  • Blood Counts: High levels of white blood cells, hemoglobin, or platelets could indicate complications with your cancer, which can result in a poorer prognosis.

Improving Your Prognosis

Treatment is the best way to improve your mesothelioma prognosis. The type and stage of mesothelioma will have the biggest impact on the type of treatment available and the efficacy of the treatment in improving long-term mesothelioma survival.

Mesothelioma Survival Rate by Treatment

Mesothelioma survival rate by treatment type

As the stages of disease become more advanced, not only does the mesothelioma prognosis worsen, but patients face more limited treatment options. Because mesothelioma itself is so aggressive, patients who are able to undergo equally aggressive treatment have a better chance of longer survival. Most patients do, however, have a multimodal treatment, meaning they receive multiple types of therapy in combination whether to attempt to cure the disease or for palliative purposes.

Early stages of mesothelioma, or stage 1 and stage 2, generally have no or very localized spreading of the disease, making it easier for oncologists to treat with a more intensive plan with curative intent. At these stages, surgery is usually still an option, as the cancer has not spread throughout the body and made surgery too risky. Depending on the location, patients will also often undergo chemotherapy or radiation in combination with surgery to achieve the best results. Peritoneal mesothelioma patients, for instance, have seen the best survival rates for early stage cancer treated by surgery in combination with a heated chemotherapy wash, seeing an average survival of 53 months.

Stage 3 is more advanced, and generally indicates some spreading. The cancer will likely still be localized to one side of the body, but will have spread to other nearby organs and possibly the lymph nodes. Stage 3 is actually the most commonly diagnosed, so there have been some more clinical trials looking into potential curative treatments for these patients. At this stage, surgery may no longer be an option, but there is still hope for treatment beyond palliative care depending on the individual case. Average mesothelioma life expectancy for stage 3 patients is around 16 months. One clinical trial studied the efficacy of radical surgery followed by chemoradiation on stage 3 patients, finding a median life expectancy of 21 months and 28% of patients surviving five years or more.

By stage 4, the cancer has spread beyond the original location to other organs and the lymph nodes and the tumors are too extensive for surgical removal. At this point in the disease, most patients will only have the option of palliative care to relieve their symptoms. Patients may undergo the same conventional treatments, but with the intent of improving quality of life.

When facing a terminal illness and a short life expectancy, it’s important for patients and their loved ones to have the support and community they need to get through. Some studies have even suggested that having a good support system and improving your mental and emotional health can not only improve quality of life, but may have a minor impact on life expectancy.

Clinical trials and research can also provide hope for mesothelioma patients at every stage of the disease. Some emerging treatments, like immunotherapy, have been able to extend survival by months and even years for a few patients. With continued efforts, hopefully researchers will find more effective treatment methods.

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Medically Reviewed By A/Prof. Tom John A/Prof. Tom John

Dr. Tom John is a medical oncologist, associate professor, and senior clinical research fellow at the Olivia Newton-John Cancer Research Institute in Melbourne, Australia.