Mesothelioma Life Expectancy

The average life expectancy for a mesothelioma patient ranges from 12 to 21 months, depending on a variety of factors, such as the stage in which the patient was first diagnosed with the cancer. About 40 percent of mesothelioma patients survive one year, and 20 percent live more than two years.

Staging and Mesothelioma Life Expectancy

Increasingly, people who have aggressive asbestos-related cancer find their lives being measured in years — not months. Improved therapies and emerging drug combinations offer newly diagnosed patients a reason to hope and spend more time with their loved ones.

Given the progressive nature of the disease, staging plays an important role in determining a mesothelioma patient's life expectancy.

Stage Median Life Expectancy
I 21 months
II 19 months
III 16 months
IV 12 months
Mesothelioma Life Expectancy

Experts say generalized life expectancy predictions are almost impossible to make because each case is so different, but the news is slowly getting better.

Extending Life Expectancy

Today, patients live longer than ever before. Some survive three, five, even 10 years and beyond their original prognosis, providing inspirational comeback stories for other potential survivors. The disease can change you forever, but many survivors continue to lead active lives, traveling and doing activities with grandkids and other loved ones.

Cutting-Edge Treatment

Exceptions are becoming the rule, with the advent of genetic therapy, immunotherapy and today's multimodal treatments. Ongoing clinical trials are changing the perception of mesothelioma.

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Specialized Care

Specialty cancer centers give patients the best chance at survival. That's why finding a specialist with experience in treating the disease is the first step toward increasing your life expectancy.

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Factors That Affect Mesothelioma Life Expectancy

Dr. Tirrell Johnson talks about the average life expectancy for mesothelioma patients.

What influences how long you live after being diagnosed with mesothelioma? Factors that affect life expectancy include the stage of the cancer, tumor location and cell type as well as non-tumor factors such as age, sex, blood characteristics and general health.

Tumor-Related Factors

The stage of the cancer at the time of diagnosis, tumor cell type, and the location of the tumor are known as tumor-related factors. These factors influence the type of treatment options you have available to you.

  • Staging

    Staging refers to how far the cancer has progressed at the time of the diagnosis. The exact stage of the cancer has the highest impact on life expectancy. Unfortunately, most patients are not diagnosed until stage III or IV because symptoms can remain hidden, but the earlier the cancer is caught, the better the prognosis and expected survival rate.

    Stage 1 Mesothelioma

    Stage I mesothelioma is localized and life expectancy is significantly improved compared to stage III or IV cancer.

  • Tumor Location

    Different types of mesothelioma are identified location and that placement can affect life expectancy. Tumors that initially form in the lung lining are called pleural mesotheliomas and average survival is around eight months if left untreated. Tumors that form in the abdominal lining are called peritoneal mesotheliomas and average survival is around six months if left untreated.

    Treatment can extend survival for pleural and peritoneal mesothelioma, the two most common types of the cancer. People with pleural mesothelioma can live longer than a year with chemotherapy. Some early stage patients who undergo multimodal treatment with surgery can live beyond two or three years. People with peritoneal mesothelioma who undergo surgery and heated chemotherapy can live longer than three years.

    The rarest types of mesothelioma affect the heart (pericardial mesothelioma) and testicles (testicular mesothelioma). Average survival for pericardial mesothelioma is around six to 10 months. People with testicular mesothelioma live at least two years on average.

    Peritoneal Mesothelioma

    Patients with peritoneal mesothelioma typically have a longer life expectancy.

  • Cell Type

    Certain types of cells that make up a mesothelioma tumor respond better to treatment than others. Tumors made up primarily 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 are associated with a shorter life expectancy.

    Epithelial Cells

    Tumors made up primarily of epithelial cells respond best to treatment.

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Non-Tumor Factors

In addition to tumor-related factors, other factors also can influence your life expectancy. Traits like overall health, age, gender and even characteristics of your blood indicate to a doctor how well your body will respond to treatment.

  • Performance Status

    Performance status is a more technical term for overall health, and indicates the activity level and general fitness of a patient. Nearly all studies that examined performance status in pleural mesothelioma patients showed 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.

    Smokers & Mesothelioma

    Smokers are 90% more likely to develop lung cancer after exposure to asbestos.

  • Gender

    Historically, men experienced more occupational exposure to asbestos than women. Because of their increased exposure, men are four times more likely to develop mesothelioma than women. Studies show that women with epithelial mesothelioma tend to live longer than men do. Researchers are not sure why women have better life expectancies.

    Gender Pie Chart

    Men are four times more likely to develop mesothelioma than women.

  • Age

    Younger, healthier patients with mesothelioma have more options for treatment than older, less healthy patients. That's because as we age, our bodies lose the ability to recover from aggressive therapies and procedures. And as we get older, we are more likely to have other health conditions that could leave certain types of treatment out of reach.

    Age Pie Chart

    75 percent of mesothelioma cases in the U.S. occur in men age 55 or older.

  • Blood Characteristics

    Some cells and biomarkers found in the blood appear to have an impact on life expectancy. Several studies report that thrombocytosis (high blood platelet count) and leukocytosis (high white blood cell count) prior to surgery are associated with shorter life expectancy. Biomarkers such as COX-2, antigen p27, MIB-1, VEGF and glycoprotein 90K may have an effect on life expectancy. Your doctor can explain your blood test results and how they may affect your expected survival.

    Blood Characteristics

    Thrombocytosis (high blood platelet count) and leukocytosis (high white blood cell count) prior to surgery are associated with shorter life expectancy.

Treatment and Life Expectancy

In developing a treatment strategy, your doctor will choose treatments that he or she believes will have the most positive impact on your life expectancy with the least physical side effects. He or she will take into account all the factors and develop a treatment strategy that will balance risk versus reward.

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Multimodal Therapy

Medical studies show that multimodal therapy has the most positive impact on mesothelioma life expectancy. However, this type of treatment strategy is usually considered aggressive and places a tremendous strain on the body. Based on your situation, you may not qualify for this type of treatment.

Generally, to qualify for multimodal therapy, the cancer must be in stage I or stage II. Some stage III patients qualify, too, if they are in otherwise good health, are relatively younger and have an epithelial or biphasic tumor type.

High-Dose Radiation

Doctors in Italy have conducted a study showing impressive results from a new high-dose radiation system following aggressive pleurectomy/decortication surgery. The two-year survival rate was 70 percent.

Alternative Therapy

Studies show that mesothelioma patients have benefitted from alternative or complementary therapies such as acupuncture, meditation, massage and yoga. These therapies may reduce stress, pain and improve quality of life.

Diet & Nutrition

In addition, a number of dietary changes can affect a mesothelioma patient's life expectancy. Considering nutrition in the treatment plan could have positive impacts on side effects, stress levels and response to treatment.

Experimental Treatments

There is a chance that your best opportunity at a longer life 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 survival. Unfortunately, new treatment may also come with a higher element of risk.

There are several experimental therapies being investigated to slow the progress of mesothelioma. Some show promise in extending life expectancy, including immunotherapy and photodynamic therapy (PDT). Newer, targeted drugs that are effective in killing cancer cells — such as gene therapy — may soon extend life expectancy.

Medical advancements continue to refine methods of detecting and managing the disease. As a result, the life span of its sufferers is gradually improving. As more research is done and more alternative treatment options are explored, mesothelioma patients are being offered a wider range of choices that may ultimately modify their prognosis and significantly extend their life spans.

Survivor Stories

Karen Selby talks about what she would say to someone who was just diagnosed with mesothelioma.

Many long-term survivors seem to have a unifying link: They integrate holistic and natural medicine into a traditional treatment plan. Nutritional regimens, supplementation and alternative therapies like acupuncture are among the holistic approaches mesothelioma survivors have used to their advantage. A number of mesothelioma patients have survived five years or longer because of their treatment, exercise and nutritional regimens.

Paul Kraus is an Australian factory worker who was diagnosed with peritoneal mesothelioma in 1997. Kraus applied several different therapies and lifestyle changes, including shifting to a vegetarian diet and taking nutritional supplements. He still has mesothelioma but is pain-free. At the extreme limit of mesothelioma survival is the case of acclaimed American scientist Stephen J. Gould, who lived for 20 years after being diagnosed. He died of an unrelated condition and authored a popular article about mesothelioma statistics that inspires patients to remain hopeful because each case is so unique.

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Additional Resources

Karen Selby is a registered nurse and a Patient Advocate at The Mesothelioma Center. She worked in several subspecialties within nursing before joining in 2009.

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