Mesothelioma Life Expectancy

The average life expectancy of a mesothelioma patient ranges from 12 to 21 months, depending on the cancer's stage and treatment outcome. About 40 percent of mesothelioma patients survive one year, and 20 percent live more than two years. But a specialist, clinical trial and staying healthy can help you live longer.

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Registered nurse Karen Selby encourages mesothelioma patients to think beyond the statistics.

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 disease.

The current life expectancy in the U.S. is 78 years. For people with mesothelioma, average life expectancy is 61 years, according to a 2013 study based on World Health Organization data.

Average mesothelioma life expectancy chart

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

How Can I Live Longer?

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, and many patients have lived for years. Some of the steps people take to live longer with mesothelioma include:

  • Seeking a second opinion from a mesothelioma specialist
  • Electing treatment options such as surgery and chemotherapy
  • Participating in a clinical trial for access to experimental treatments
  • Working with a palliative care doctor to maintain quality of life
  • Improving diet and exercise to improve overall health
  • Adjusting lifestyle habits to improve well-being
  • Trying complementary therapies to boost immunity
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What Factors Affect My Life Expectancy?

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

Your life expectancy is affected by factors unique to your cancer and your health. The primary factors include:

  • The cancer’s stage, location and cell type
  • Your sex, age, overall health, lifestyle and blood characteristics
  • The treatments and clinical trials you try

Factors You Can Change

Mesothelioma caregiver Ruth Ashcraft and her husband

“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

Certain things are within your control. You’re not totally helpless against the disease. 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 for support from family, friends or a support group.

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.

In developing a treatment strategy, doctors will choose treatments they believe will have the most positive impact on your life expectancy and with the least physical side effects. They will take into account all the factors and develop a treatment strategy that will balance risks versus rewards.

Treatment

Early-Stage Treatment

Early-stage patients can live for years after successful treatment. Without treatment, stage 1 patients live two years, but with treatment, they live longer than three years. Patients in stage 1 or stage 2 may qualify for multimodal therapy, which has the most positive impact on mesothelioma life expectancy. Some stage 3 patients qualify, too, if they are in good health, relatively younger and have an epithelial or biphasic cell type.

Late-Stage Treatment

Clinical trials are offering immunotherapy to people with late-stage mesothelioma. Some people with stage 4 mesothelioma have lived for years because they tried a variety of therapies, including chemotherapy, to keep the cancer in control.

Alternative Therapies and Integrative Oncology

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

Clinical Trials

Research & Emerging Treatments

There is a chance that your best opportunity at 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 treatment 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. Newer and targeted drugs, such as gene therapy, are effective in killing cancer cells may soon extend life expectancy.

Medical advancements continue to refine methods of detecting and managing the disease. As a result, patient life span is gradually improving. As more research is done and more alternative treatment options are explored, mesothelioma patients will have a wider range of choices that may ultimately extend their lives.

Health & Lifestyle

Overall Health

Performance status, a more technical term for overall health, is an indicator of the activity level and general fitness of a patient. Nearly all studies that examine performance status in pleural 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.

Lifestyle Changes to Enhance Well-Being

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 take up meditation.

Nutritional regimens, supplementation and alternative therapies, such as acupuncture, are among the approaches mesothelioma survivors use to their advantage. A number of mesothelioma patients have survived five years or longer because of their treatment, exercise and nutritional regimens.

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

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Factors You Cannot Change

Your life expectancy also depends on other factors you cannot change such as characteristics about your cancer, your age and sex. Even though you can’t control every factor, you can troubleshoot them with various therapies and interventions.

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

Increasingly, people with aggressive asbestos-related cancer find their lives 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.

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. Unfortunately, most patients are not diagnosed until stage 3 or 4 because symptoms can remain hidden.

As mesothelioma stage increases, life expectancy decreases. Once cancer reaches the lymph nodes, life expectancy decreases because mesothelioma can spread faster once it reaches the lymphatic system.

Tumor Location

Origin of Tumor Location

Peritoneal mesothelioma diagram

Patients with peritoneal mesothelioma typically have a longer life expectancy.

Different types of mesothelioma are identified by where they originated, and the location affects life expectancy. Tumors that initially form in the lung lining are called pleural mesotheliomas, and patients 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.

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 three years. 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 live at least two years on average.

Cell Type

Some Respond Better

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 Live Longer

Age Pie Chart

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

Younger, healthier patients with mesothelioma have more treatment options 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. The average age of patients diagnosed with pleural mesothelioma is 69.

Women Live Longer

Gender Pie Chart

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

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.

Research reported to the National Cancer Institute from 2005 to 2011 show that, overall, 15.6 percent of women with mesothelioma survive for five years, compared with 8.8 percent of men. These figures represent all reported cases of mesothelioma.

Blood Characteristics

Importance of Biomarkers

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 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 cells diagram

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

Life Expectancy Research

Mesothelioma survivor Ellis Gill and his grandson

“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 diseases. New data leads to more accurate mesothelioma prognosis estimates.

Studies that involve surgery tend to report higher mesothelioma survival rates. The better outcome in these studies is attributed to the early diagnosis of the participants, and the fact that surgery offers the best chance of long-term survival.

A 2011 pleural mesothelioma study at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Massachusetts, involving 636 patients who underwent an aggressive surgery called extrapleural pneumonectomy (EPP), found that patients who lived at least three years tended to be female, had epithelial cells and were around age 56.

Another surgery called pleurectomy/decortication (P/D) has improved survival. A 2012 European study reported longer survival among epithelioid pleural mesothelioma patients who had a P/D surgery versus EPP surgery. Patients who had a P/D lived an average of 30 months, while EPP patients lived for 14 months.

A 2015 Italian study found that age, epithelioid cell type and cancer-free lymph nodes were prognostic factors associated with long-term survival in pleural mesothelioma patients who had an EPP. Nearly 23 percent of the study’s 468 participants lived longer than three years.

Mesothelioma researchers are working diligently to improve mesothelioma life expectancy after diagnosis. New drugs are under investigation all the time, and clinical trials are testing new combinations of therapies hoping to find a more effective treatment protocol. Genetic testing is making headway toward early diagnosis, and targeted therapies will do less harm to healthy cells.

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. If you have a story idea for Michelle, please email her at michelle@asbestos.com.

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