Mesothelioma Life Expectancy

Mesothelioma patients have an average life expectancy of under 2 years, and even less for those who are diagnosed at a late stage of the cancer. About one in five patients lives beyond 2 years, and fewer than one in ten lives more than 5 years.

Key Points about Mesothelioma Life Expectancy

  • The life expectancy of a mesothelioma patient depends heavily on that individual’s diagnosis, age, and overall health.
  • Life expectancy for mesothelioma patients has changed little in the last 20 years.
  • Although mesothelioma have a fairly short life expectancy, better detection methods and emerging treatments are helping some patients live much longer.

Life Expectancy by Mesothelioma Stage

The most important factor affecting mesothelioma life expectancy is the cancer’s stage at diagnosis. Detecting the cancer early can significantly improve the length of time a patient is expected to live.

Life Expectancy

Life Expectancy Chart

Hope: Survivor Stories

While rare, some people diagnosed with mesothelioma can survive for many years. Here are a few individuals who have survived for many years after their mesothelioma diagnosis.

Long-Term Mesothelioma Survivors
Wendy Holmes

Diagnosed in 1998 with stage 4 mesothelioma, Wendy is one of the longest-surviving individuals who has had mesothelioma. A bright and supportive person, Wendy describes herself as living a life “with rose-colored glasses,” and today she works to help others who have been diagnosed with mesothelioma and other cancers.

Read Wendy’s Story >

Stephen Jay Gould

Scientist and author Stephen Jay Gould was diagnosed with peritoneal mesothelioma in 1982, an event which prompted him to write an essay titled “The Median Isn’t the Message” about the median life expectancy of mesothelioma patients. He lived for 20 years after his diagnosis, eventually passing away from an unrelated lung cancer.

Galy Vee

Galy accidentally discovered a lump in her abdomen while teaching a fitness class on her fiftieth birthday – it turned out to be a peritoneal mesothelioma tumor. After a number of treatments, she has lived for more than 5 years after her initial diagnosis, with plans to return to her active lifestyle of mountain climbing and fitness.

Other Factors that Impact Life Expectancy

While stage of the disease is the biggest factor, there are a number of other elements that are part of determining life expectancy.

Tumor Characteristics

Location: Where the tumors form, also known as the mesothelioma type, can have a big impact on life expectancy. For example, individuals with pleural (lungs) or peritoneal (abdomen) mesothelioma tend to have longer life expectancies than those with pericardial (heart) mesothelioma.

Cell Type: Mesothelioma comes in three primary cell types – epithelioid, sarcomatoid, and biphasic (a mixture of the first two). Sarcomatoid mesothelioma is much harder to treat, and those who have it tend to have shorter life expectancies than those with the more common epithelioid or biphasic types.

Metastasis: Once the disease spreads, a process known as metastasis, it is much more difficult to remove or kill all of the cancerous cells in the body. As a result, patients with metastatic mesothelioma typically have shorter life expectancies than those whose cancer has not yet started to spread.

Patient Characteristics

Age: The majority of mesothelioma patients are diagnosed after the age of 50, largely due to the long latency period that mesothelioma has. However, individuals who are diagnosed at a younger age tend to have longer life expectancies than those who are diagnosed at an older age.

Gender: Men are much more likely to develop mesothelioma than women, in large part due to the fact that historically men have worked in industries where they experience greater exposure to asbestos. Women’s longer life expectancy in general may also play a part. On average, women live 5.5 months longer than men after a mesothelioma diagnosis.

Overall Health: An individual who leads a generally healthy lifestyle and is otherwise physically fit is more likely to live longer with mesothelioma than someone who is less healthy. Regular exercise, maintaining a healthy weight, and avoiding unhealthy behaviors such as smoking or excessive alcohol consumption may all play a part in living longer with or without the disease.

Treatment can Improve Mesothelioma Life Expectancy

Researchers are constantly looking for new mesothelioma treatments that are more effective in helping patients live longer. While conventional treatments – surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation – can work for some people, many of these emerging treatments offer hope for patients who do not respond well to traditional forms of therapy.

Immunotherapy
  • Kickstarts the body’s immune system to help it fight mesothelioma.
  • Pembrolizumab (Keytruda) block’s cancer’s hiding defenses so T cells can attack it.
  • Bevacizumb (Avastin) prevents blood vessels from feeding mesothelioma tumors.
Gene Therapy
  • Changes cancer cells’ genetic structure to stop or kill tumors.
  • Researchers are looking at ways to starve cancer cells so they die a natural death.
  • Gene-directed enzyme-producing therapy infects cancer cells with “suicide genes.”
Cryotherapy
  • Using extremely cold temperatures, doctors can freeze and kill cancerous tumors.
  • Studies showed that 95% of tumors did not regrow after being frozen.
  • Current studies are looking at using cryotherapy to induce an immune system response.
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    Sources & About the Writer [+]
    • 1 Alexander, H.R., and Burke, A.P. “Diagnosis and management of patients with malignant peritoneal mesothelioma.” Journal of Gastrointestinal Oncology. 2016;7(1):79-86. doi:10.3978/j.issn.2078-6891.2015.134
    • 2 Moore AJ, Parker RJ, Wiggins J. “Malignant mesothelioma.” Orphanet Journal of Rare Diseases. 2008;3:34. doi: 10.1186/1750-1172-3-34
    • 3 Rusch, V.W., et al. “Initial Analysis of the International Association For the Study of Lung Cancer Mesothelioma Database.” Journal of Thoracic Oncology. 2012;7(11):1631-1639. doi:10.1097/JTO.0b013e31826915f1
    • 4 “Survival statistics for mesothelioma.” American Cancer Society. Feb. 17, 2016.
    • About The Writer Photo of Dan Heil Dan Heil

      Dan is a contributing writer for The Mesothelioma + Asbestos Awareness Center. He hopes to help educate on everything related to a mesothelioma diagnosis and answer any questions patients or family members may have.