The median life expectancy of a mesothelioma patient ranges from 12 to 21 months, depending on the cancer's stage and response to treatment. That means half of mesothelioma patients live longer than that, while the other half live less time than that. About 40 percent of mesothelioma patients survive one year after diagnosis, and 20 percent live more than two years. Specialized health care, clinical trials and healthy lifestyle habits can help you live longer.
The term “life expectancy” refers to the average time a person is expected to live. After someone is diagnosed with mesothelioma, their life expectancy may be cut short because of the effects of the disease and unfortunately, sometimes its treatments.
The current overall life expectancy in the U.S. is 78 years, and U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show the average age of a mesothelioma patient at the time they are diagnosed is 73.
Because most patients in the past have survived less than 12 months according to research data, a mesothelioma diagnosis means an average drop in life expectancy of about four years.
However, statistics do not decide your destiny. Increasingly, people with aggressive asbestos-related cancer are measuring their survival in years rather than months. Improved therapies and emerging drug combinations offer newly diagnosed patients a reason to hope.
Looking at average life expectancies and survival rates is useful for medical researchers, but what you and your medical team must focus on are the unique circumstances of your life, as well as your own determination to be a cancer survivor.
Today, patients are living longer than before. Some people survive three, five and even 10 years beyond their original prognosis, providing inspirational comeback stories for other potential survivors. Although the disease can change you forever, many survivors continue to lead active lives, traveling and doing activities with grandkids and other loved ones.
Patients often ask, “Is mesothelioma curable?” While there is no cure for mesothelioma, some people have achieved remission— meaning all evidence of the disease is gone at least temporarily — and lived for years with few symptoms.
Some of the steps people take to live longer with mesothelioma include:
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Your life expectancy is affected by factors unique to your cancer and your health. The primary factors include:
Certain things are within your control. You can team up with mesothelioma experts to get the best available treatment. You can improve your health and lifestyle to boost your immune system and cope better with stress. You can also reach out to family, friends or a cancer survivor group for support.
Research shows anti-cancer treatment will help you live longer than electing no treatment. For example, stage 4 life expectancy is around a year with treatment versus seven months without treatment.
“I thought he was on the way out, that we were losing him, my husband and best friend…And today, he’s a picture of health, and we’re living our lives again.”
— Ruth Ashcraft, wife of stage 4 pleural mesothelioma survivor diagnosed in 2010
Patients with stage 1 or 2 cancer may qualify for multimodal therapy — a combination of aggressive surgery, chemotherapy and radiation therapy — which has the most positive impact on mesothelioma life expectancy. Some stage 3 patients qualify, too, if they are in good health, are relatively young and have an epithelial or biphasic cell type.
Some people with stage 3 or 4 mesothelioma have lived for years because they used a variety of therapies to keep the cancer in control. While surgery usually is not an option once the cancer is no longer localized, clinical trials are offering immunotherapy and potentially improved forms of chemotherapy and radiation therapy to people with late-stage mesothelioma.
There is a chance that your best opportunity for extending your life expectancy could come from experimental treatment in a clinical trial. Mesothelioma researchers constantly test new medications and treatment approaches, and clinical trials allow patients to take advantage of new treatments that may extend mesothelioma survival. Unfortunately, new treatments may also come with a higher element of risk.
Researchers are investigating several experimental therapies that slow the progress of mesothelioma. Immunotherapy and photodynamic therapy (PDT) show promise in extending life expectancy. Other new targeted treatments such as gene therapy may soon prove effective in killing cancer cells and extending life expectancy.
“Performance status” is a technical term that refers to the activity level and general fitness of a patient. Nearly all studies that examine performance status in mesothelioma patients show a significant effect on survival. The more active and fit you are, the more likely your body will be able to withstand and recover from aggressive cancer treatments.
Many long-term survivors seem to have a unifying link: They make major life changes to improve their health and well-being. Some take better care of their bodies through nutrition and exercise, while others strengthen their spirituality or find other ways to foster peace of mind.
A number of mesothelioma patients have survived five years or longer because of lifestyle changes that had positive impacts on treatment side effects, stress levels and their bodies’ natural ability to heal.
Studies show that mesothelioma patients have benefitted from combining traditional cancer treatment with complementary therapies such as acupuncture, meditation, massage and yoga. These therapies may reduce stress and pain and improve quality of life.
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Your life expectancy also depends on factors such as your age, your sex and the characteristics of your cancer. Though factors like these are beyond your control, being aware of them will help you identify the therapies and interventions best suited to your situation.
In developing a treatment strategy, doctors will choose treatments they believe will have the most positive impact on your life expectancy, with the fewest physical side effects. They will take all the factors into account and balance risks versus rewards.
|Stage||Median Life Expectancy|
Given the progressive nature of the disease, staging plays an important role in determining a mesothelioma patient’s life expectancy. Staging refers to how far the cancer has progressed at the time of the diagnosis. The exact stage of the cancer is the greatest predictor of life expectancy.
As the mesothelioma stage increases, life expectancy decreases. The later stages are often characterized by mesothelioma cells overwhelming lymph nodes and then using the body’s lymphatic system to spread cancer all throughout the body.
Different types of mesothelioma originate in different locations. Tumors that initially form in the lung lining are called pleural mesotheliomas, and patients with this type live around eight months if left untreated. Tumors that form in the abdominal lining are called peritoneal mesotheliomas, and patients live around six months if left untreated.
However, because peritoneal mesothelioma is currently easier to target than pleural mesothelioma, electing treatment increases the life expectancy of peritoneal patients much more. Half of people with peritoneal mesothelioma who undergo surgery with heated chemotherapy live longer than five years.
The rarest types of mesothelioma affect the heart (pericardial mesothelioma) and testicles (testicular mesothelioma). Median survival for pericardial mesothelioma is around six to 10 months. People with testicular mesothelioma usually live at least two years on average.
Certain types of cells that make up a mesothelioma tumor respond better to treatment than others. Tumors mostly composed of epithelial cells respond best to treatment, and patients with this cell type have a better life expectancy. In contrast, tumors made up primarily of the sarcomatoid cell type or the biphasic (mixed) cell type are more difficult to treat, and they are associated with a shorter life expectancy.
Younger patients with mesothelioma typically have more treatment options than older patients. That’s because as we age, our bodies lose the ability to recover from aggressive therapies and procedures, and we are also more likely to develop other health conditions that could leave certain types of treatment out of reach. The average age of patients diagnosed with pleural mesothelioma is 69.
Studies show women with epithelial mesothelioma tend to live longer than male patients do. Research reported to the National Cancer Institute from 2005 to 2011 reveal that, overall, 15.6 percent of women with mesothelioma survive for five years, compared with 8.8 percent of men. Researchers are not yet sure why women have better life expectancies.
Some biomarkers found in the blood, such as COX-2, antigen p27, MIB-1, VEGF and glycoprotein 90K, appear to have an impact on life expectancy. Your doctor can explain your blood test results and how they may affect your prognosis.
“I’m staying optimistic, and praying now more than I ever have before. Even though there are obstacles and difficult times, you can get past them. You can still live a reasonably normal life again.”
— Ellis Gill, pleural mesothelioma survivor diagnosed in 2014
As results from ongoing mesothelioma studies surface, doctors learn more about the disease. New data leads to more accurate mesothelioma prognoses.
Studies that involve surgery tend to report higher mesothelioma survival rates. The better outcomes in these studies are attributed to the early diagnosis of the participants and the fact that surgery offers the best chance of long-term survival.
In a 2011 review of 314 pleural mesothelioma patients, for example, Japanese researchers found that surgical treatment more than doubled the median survival period from less than 10 months to almost two years.
A surgical procedure called pleurectomy/decortication (P/D) was associated with improved survival in a 2012 study. European researchers found epithelioid pleural mesothelioma patients who had a P/D lived an average of 30 months, while patients who received the other major surgical option, an extrapleural pneumonectomy (EPP), lived an average of 14 months.
Three years later in 2015, an Italian study of 468 pleural mesothelioma patients who had an EPP found that nearly 23 percent of the participants lived longer than three years. Age, epithelioid cell type and cancer-free lymph nodes were prognostic factors associated with long-term survival.
Mesothelioma researchers are working diligently to improve the life expectancy for mesothelioma patients. Clinical trials are testing new drugs and new combinations of therapies to find a more effective treatment protocol. The landscape of mesothelioma treatment is constantly evolving, and treatment is becoming increasingly personalized.
People are living longer with this disease than ever before, and with sustained research, mesothelioma life expectancy will continually improve.
Joining the team in February 2008 as a writer and editor, Michelle Whitmer has translated medical jargon into patient-friendly information at Asbestos.com for more than eight years. Michelle is a registered yoga teacher, a member of the Academy of Integrative Health & Medicine, and was quoted by The New York Times on the risks of asbestos exposure.
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