The average life expectancy for mesothelioma is 12 – 21 months.
Type of mesothelioma, cancer cell type and stage affect life expectancy.
Traditional or experimental treatments may be able to extend survival for some patients.
Life expectancy will vary from patient to patient based on personal characteristics.
Mesothelioma life expectancy differs from prognosis and survival rate in that it provides patients with a time frame of their expected survival. The life expectancy for malignant mesothelioma is typically short, but can vary greatly on a case-by-case basis and continues to improve with advancements in treatment.
Factors Impacting Mesothelioma Life Expectancy
Mesothelioma patient life expectancies are averages based on previous case studies. Actual life expectancies will differ for each individual, so patients and their loved ones should discuss their specific case with their mesothelioma specialist to fully understand their survival. Factors that can impact life expectancy include:
- Mesothelioma type by location and cell type
- Mesothelioma stage
- Treatment plan
- Patient history and characteristics
Mesothelioma Types and Life Expectancy
Mesothelioma type is an important factor in predicting how the disease will progress and is determined by the location of primary tumors.
- Pleural mesothelioma affects the linings of the lungs
- Peritoneal mesothelioma develops in the linings of the abdomen
- Pericardial mesothelioma originates in the linings of the heart
- Testicular mesothelioma occurs in the linings of the testicles
In addition to types of mesothelioma based on location, there are also three main cell types: epithelioid, sarcomatoid and biphasic. Life expectancies differ for all the cell types. Sarcomatoid cells are more aggressive and less responsive to treatment, negatively impacting life expectancy. Epithelioid cells are less aggressive and more responsive to treatment options, often resulting in a longer life expectancy. Biphasic mesothelioma incorporates a combination of epithelioid and sarcomatoid cells with life expectancies that can vary, especially based on which cell type is dominant.
Mesothelioma Stages and Life Expectancy
A patient’s stage at diagnosis is one of the most important factors in determining life expectancy. Early detection is the best way for mesothelioma patients to extend their survival. Diagnoses at stage 1 or stage 2 often present more treatment opportunities. Within these early stages, the cancer has not yet spread, and aggressive treatment options are more likely to be viable. Successful examples of aggressive treatment plans include surgeries, such as a pleurectomy/decortication or extrapleural pneumonectomy, in combination with chemotherapy or radiation therapy.
However, mesothelioma often goes undiagnosed or misdiagnosed until stage 3 or 4, since symptoms may not present themselves until 10 – 50 years after exposure to asbestos. This timeframe is referred to as the disease’s latency period.
At stage 3 or 4, treatment options are often more limited, as the patient is in declining health and the cancer is no longer localized, affecting other lymph nodes, organs and areas of the body. Therefore, late-stage cancer patients often face a much shorter life expectancy than those diagnosed early on.
Mesothelioma research has focused on new methods for diagnosing mesothelioma early, such as with blood tests and biomarkers. Life expectancies have, and continue to improve over the years as more research is done.
Mesothelioma Patient Characteristics and Life Expectancy
Most mesothelioma and life expectancy studies focus on pleural and peritoneal mesothelioma patients, since they make up the majority of cases. Many of these studies have found that there are connections between life expectancy and the following:
- Overall patient health
Studies looking at instances of mesothelioma in both men and women have found that men typically experience shorter life expectancies than women. On overage, women live around 5.5 months longer than men. In a study of mortality in pleural mesothelioma patients, 88.4% of male patients were deceased within two years after their diagnosis, compared to 79.6% of females.
Researchers partially attribute this to increased likelihood and levels of exposure in men, as men were more likely to hold high-risk asbestos occupations during the height of asbestos use. One study found that the ratio of men with mesothelioma compared to women was as high as 4:1.
Patients diagnosed later in their life usually have lower life expectancies than those diagnosed earlier. Oftentimes, patients that receive a diagnosis after the age of 50 were exposed to asbestos during the height of its use. They then likely faced a long-term exposure in higher quantities, putting them more at risk for developing diseases like mesothelioma. Older individuals are also more likely to be in declining health later on in life, making it difficult to receive life-extending treatments. Most cases of mesothelioma are diagnosed in individuals of older age, since symptoms of mesothelioma often don’t emerge for 10 – 50 years.
Overall Patient Health
A patient’s overall health can also greatly impact life expectancy. Patients in good health and without other conditions are more likely to withstand aggressive cancer treatments. Those with pre-existing conditions or weakened immune systems may face limited treatment options.
Improving Mesothelioma Life Expectancy
The best way to improve mesothelioma survival is through early detection. Though the disease is often difficult to detect in its early stages, individuals with a known history of asbestos exposure should be aware of potential symptoms and receive frequent checkups to monitor for asbestos diseases. Mesothelioma research continues to develop tools like new biomarkers that can also help diagnose mesothelioma early or identify symptoms before they become noticeable.
Besides early detection, treatment is the best way to improve life expectancy. Most mesothelioma patients opt to undergo systemic therapy to kill as much of the cancer as possible and help prevent further growth. Studies have shown that patients opting for multimodal treatment, a combination of surgery, chemotherapy and/or radiation therapy, often have the best chance at extending their life expectancy.
Patients not responding to traditional treatments may still have the opportunity to improve their prognosis if they are eligible for mesothelioma clinical trials. Experimental treatments have shown success for many, if patients meet the criteria to participate. Some experimental treatments, like immunotherapy, are even becoming more widely available outside of clinical trials because of their success.
Patients and their loved ones should discuss their treatment plan and potential clinical trial participation with their doctor. Clinical trials continue to search for a mesothelioma cure and for better treatment options that will give patients the longest life expectancy possible. Recent emerging treatments include photodynamic therapy and variations of multimodal therapy, such as surgery with heated intraperitoneal chemotherapy (HIPEC).
Mesothelioma Life Expectancy Without Treatment
Patients may choose to forgo mesothelioma treatment for a variety of reasons, such as to avoid the expensive medical bills, to prevent bothersome side effects of aggressive treatments or because they want to stay comfortable throughout the last stages of their life. In these cases, patients typically focus on palliative care, seeking to manage and minimize their symptoms and improve quality of life, instead of fighting the cancer.
Treatment can greatly extend life expectancies for some mesothelioma patients, and opting to skip treatment may result in a shorter lifespan. Studies have shown that mesothelioma patients not receiving treatment typically face a median survival of around six months after the time of diagnosis. This can vary from case to case, based on other diagnostic factors.