Written By: Dr. Daniel A. Landau, Last modified: April 5, 2021

What Is the Life Expectancy for Mesothelioma?

The life expectancy for mesothelioma patients varies from person to person based on several factors, including type of mesothelioma, but cancer stage is the most impactful.

Pleural Mesothelioma Life Expectancy by Stage
  • Patients with stage 1 pleural mesothelioma have an average life expectancy of 21 months.
  • Patients with stage 2 pleural mesothelioma have an average life expectancy of 19 months.
  • Patients with stage 3 pleural mesothelioma have an average life expectancy of 16 months.
  • Patients with stage 4 advanced pleural mesothelioma have an average life expectancy of 12 months.

Doctors use the terms life expectancy, life span and survival rate to explain a patient’s prognosis. These terms are similar, but not interchangeable. It is helpful to understand what they mean for your mesothelioma prognosis.

  • Prognosis is a patient’s chance of recovery.
  • Life expectancy and life span describe how long someone is estimated to live with mesothelioma.
  • Survival rate is the percentage of patients who live five years after diagnosis. It may also be measured at one and two years after diagnosis.
Mesothelioma life expectancy by stage

Asbestos cancer life expectancy varies in surgical patients diagnosed with pleural mesothelioma and peritoneal mesothelioma.

A 2017 analysis of 442 patients with mesothelioma showed median survival was nine months among pleural mesothelioma patients and 18 months in patients with peritoneal mesothelioma. The study included patients who did and did not receive treatment.

In this review, surgery, systemic therapy and particularly the combination of the two treatments were associated with better all-cause survival.

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Pleural Mesothelioma Life Expectancy

Research shows some people with pleural mesothelioma, which occurs in the membrane surrounding the lungs, live an average of three years with surgery. Nearly 75% of all pleural mesothelioma patients live one year after their diagnosis. Only 23% survive for three or more years.

Peritoneal Mesothelioma Life Expectancy

With aggressive treatment, patients with peritoneal mesothelioma, which occurs in the lining of the abdomen, may live five or more years after receiving their cancer diagnosis.

Peritoneal mesothelioma is easier to treat with surgery than pleural mesothelioma. Surgery increases peritoneal mesothelioma life expectancy more than it does for pleural patients.

Life Expectancy for Other Mesothelioma Types

The rarest types of mesothelioma affect the membranes around the heart (pericardial mesothelioma) and the testes (testicular mesothelioma).

Median survival for pericardial mesothelioma is around six to 10 months. The life span for people with testicular mesothelioma is at least two years on average.

Dr. Tirrell Johnson discussing the mesothelioma average life expectancy.

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

Factors Affecting Mesothelioma Life Expectancy

A person’s life expectancy with mesothelioma is affected by many factors you cannot control, including the stage of mesothelioma and your age at the time of diagnosis. Some factors can be controlled, such as undergoing mesothelioma treatments, participating in clinical trials and improving your overall health and lifestyle choices.

The primary factors affecting mesothelioma life expectancy include:

  • The cancer’s stage, type and the cells within the tumor
  • Gender, age, overall health, lifestyle and blood characteristics
  • Choice of treatments and clinical trials

Your life expectancy is an important part of your prognosis, which is the overall outlook of how mesothelioma will affect your body and life span.

Stage

The stage of mesothelioma at diagnosis is the most important factor determining life expectancy.

Staging is a medical designation to describe the extent of cancer progression at the time of diagnosis. Cancers are usually staged as 1-4. As the stage number increases, life expectancy decreases, and prognosis worsens.

Mesothelioma Life Expectancy with Surgery by Stage
Stage Life Expectancy
Stage 1 22.2 months
Stage 2 20 months
Stage 3 17.9 months
Stage 4 14.9 months
Source: Journal of Thoracic Oncology, 2016

Mesothelioma Cell Type

Mesothelioma patients with epithelial tumors, also called epithelioid cell type, live 200 days longer, on average, than patients with biphasic or sarcomatoid disease.

Sarcomatoid mesothelioma tends to be more aggressive and less responsive to treatment.

mesothelioma survival in months by cell type

Age

Younger people tend to live longer with mesothelioma than older patients. Younger mesothelioma patients are often healthier, making them eligible for more treatments and clinical trials than older patients.

For people diagnosed earlier in life, these differences lead to longer life expectancy with mesothelioma.

A 2019 study using data from the National Cancer Database reviewed 4,526 newly diagnosed nonmetastatic malignant pleural mesothelioma patients 80 years and older.

In the study:

  • Only 2% received surgery and chemotherapy
  • Most patients (63%) received no treatment
  • Median survival for the observed (no treatment) group was 4.1 months
  • Median survival for the surgery and chemotherapy group was 12.2 months
  • Patients who only received chemotherapy survived 9.5 months on average
  • For the 8% of patients who had surgery, 28.5% died within 90 days

While surgery can provide improved life expectancy in older mesothelioma patients, the risks of this aggressive approach are significant.

Did You Know?
Pleural and peritoneal mesotheliomas have a one-year life expectancy for late-stage patients who undergo only chemotherapy.
Learn more about mesothelioma survival rates

Gender

Women are much less likely to be diagnosed with mesothelioma, by an approximate 4-to-1 ratio. Women with epithelial mesothelioma also live longer, on average, compared to men with the same mesothelioma cell type.

The National Cancer Institute reports 15.6% of women with mesothelioma survive for five years. Only 8.8% of men live that long.

Life expectancy of mesothelioma patients broken down by gender.
15.6 percent of women with mesothelioma survive for five years, compared with 8.8 percent of men.

One reason women may live longer is they typically have had less intense exposure to asbestos, the primary cause of mesothelioma. This may lead to less aggressive tumors.

Another reason is the type of mesothelioma. Women are more likely to be diagnosed with peritoneal mesothelioma, which carries a better life expectancy and prognosis. Most men are diagnosed with pleural mesothelioma, which is tougher to treat and has a worse life expectancy compared with peritoneal mesothelioma.

A 2020 study published in American Journal of Surgical Pathology reported a five-year survival rate of 77.8% among women with peritoneal mesothelioma who underwent cytoreductive surgery with heated chemotherapy. On average, about 50% of men who undergo the procedure survive that long with the disease.

Overall Health and Lifestyle Choices

Having other chronic conditions, such as asbestosis, chronic bronchitis and emphysema (COPD), obesity, diabetes or heart disease, can decrease life expectancy after a mesothelioma diagnosis.

Tobacco use also can impact survival after mesothelioma.

Smoking does not cause mesothelioma, but it can worsen overall health in people with the disease, leading to shorter survival after diagnosis.

Mesothelioma Nutrition Guide from Asbestos.com
Free Mesothelioma Nutrition Guide
Eating right and balancing your diet while undergoing mesothelioma treatment can help ease your symptoms.

Improving Life Expectancy with Treatment

Anti-cancer therapies improve life expectancy. Median life expectancy for stage 4 mesothelioma is approximately a year with treatment versus seven months without treatment.

Early-Stage Treatment

Patients with stage 1 or stage 2 disease may be eligible to receive multimodal therapy combining surgery, chemotherapy and radiation therapy.

Younger, healthier, stage 3 patients with the epithelial or biphasic cell type may also qualify for combination treatments.

Late-Stage Treatment

Surgery may not be an option for some people with late-stage mesothelioma, but if your health is good enough, you still may be eligible for this treatment approach.

Did You Know?
A 2017 study found even for patients with advanced mesothelioma, pleurectomy and decortication surgery led to an average survival of nearly three years.

Clinical Trials and Emerging Treatment

Your best chance of improving mesothelioma life expectancy may come from clinical trials that test experimental treatments.

Immunotherapy and photodynamic therapy have shown promise for extending the life expectancy of mesothelioma patients. Researchers also are studying gene therapy and other targeted treatments.

Your oncologist can help find clinical trials tailored just for you.

Karen Selby, RN encouraging mesothelioma patients to think beyond statistics.

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

Mesothelioma Life Expectancy Without Treatment

The average pleural mesothelioma life expectancy is about eight months without treatment.

Peritoneal mesothelioma responds well to treatment, often better than pleural disease. Peritoneal patients who qualify for surgery and hyperthermic intraperitoneal chemotherapy, also known as HIPEC, have a 50% chance of living longer than five years.

However, peritoneal mesothelioma cancer progresses quickly without therapy. Average peritoneal life expectancy without treatment is approximately six months.

Quick Fact:
The life expectancy of mesothelioma patients who develop COVID-19 is cut in half. Patients whose cancer has recently progressed or worsened are five times more likely to die within a month after a COVID-19 diagnosis.
Learn how covid-19 affects cancer patients
Source: The Lancet, 2020

Improving Life Span

A mesothelioma diagnosis is challenging, but many people live longer by taking active steps to improve their health.

Increase Activity Level & Fitness

“Performance status” is a technical term that refers to the activity level and general fitness of a patient. Nearly all studies on 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.

Improve Your Nutrition

Cancer patients who are better nourished experience longer survival. Eating right helps your body recover from aggressive treatments and maintain good immune function.

You may have heard or read about diets for mesothelioma patients. If you want to know more about these diets, ask your doctor for a referral to a cancer dietitian.

In general, an appropriate mesothelioma diet and good nutrition will provide plenty of protein to support recovery and enough calories to prevent weight loss.

Consider Complementary Medicine

Complementary medicine refers to other approaches used in combination with conventional cancer treatment. This strategy is also called integrative medicine or integrative oncology. Examples include acupuncture, meditation, herbal medicine and yoga. These therapies may reduce stress and pain and improve quality of life.

You should always consult your doctor before starting any integrative therapy to avoid drug interactions and negative treatment consequences.

Common Questions About Mesothelioma Life Expectancy

What is the difference between life expectancy, survival rate and prognosis?

Life expectancy is the number of months or years a patient can expect to live with their current diagnosis. The survival rates for mesothelioma are the percentages of people who live beyond a certain point after diagnosis. For example, 12% of patients live for five years.

The mesothelioma prognosis for a patient is the doctor’s description of their outlook based on response to treatment and the prospect of recovery. Doctors typically describe a prognosis in terms such as “favorable” or “poor.”

What happens in the final stages of mesothelioma?

In end-stage mesothelioma, symptoms are more severe and treatment is limited. Stage 3 mesothelioma patients experience difficulty breathing, chest pain, weight loss and fevers. Due to significant tumor involvement, patients are ineligible for surgery and receive chemotherapy to slow tumor growth.

Stage 4 mesothelioma, the final stage, involves tumors on the liver, spine, brain, kidneys or other organs. Symptoms are extreme, and respiratory or cardiac failure are the leading causes of death. Palliative care in the end stage reduces pain and other symptoms for comfort.

How can life expectancy for mesothelioma be improved?

Mesothelioma treatment options, such as chemotherapy and radiation, improve life expectancy by reducing tumor size and preventing the growth and spread of cancer.


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