Factors Affecting Mesothelioma Life Expectancy
Your life expectancy is affected by factors unique to your cancer and your overall health.
The most important factors affecting life expectancy include:
- Tumor type and location
- Cells making up the tumor
- Stage of disease
The mesothelioma treatments and clinical trials you try, your gender, age at diagnosis, overall health and your lifestyle choices, such as tobacco use, also play important roles in life expectancy with mesothelioma.
The stage of mesothelioma at diagnosis the most important factor in determining life expectancy.
Staging is a medical designation to describe how far the cancer has progressed at the time of diagnosis. As stage increases, life expectancy decreases.
|Stage 1||22.2 months|
|Stage 2||20 months|
|Stage 3||17.9 months|
|Stage 4||14.9 months|
Source: Journal of Thoracic Oncology
Mesothelioma Tumor Type and Location
Life expectancy differs for surgical patients with pleural versus peritoneal mesothelioma.
A 2017 analysis of 442 patients with mesothelioma noted median survival was nine months among pleural mesothelioma patients and 18 months in people with peritoneal mesothelioma. This includes people who received treatment and those who did not.
In this study, surgery, systemic therapy and particularly the combination of the two treatments was associated with better all-cause survival.
Pleural disease occurs in the membrane surrounding the lungs and lining the chest cavity. Research shows people with pleural mesothelioma who undergo surgery live an average of three years.
With aggressive treatment, people 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.
Both tumor types have a one-year life expectancy for late-stage patients who only undergo chemotherapy.
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. People with testicular mesothelioma live at least two years on average.
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.
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Other Factors Affecting Life Expectancy
Age, gender, overall health and your lifestyle choices also impact your life expectancy after a mesothelioma diagnosis.
Young Mesothelioma Patient Life Expectancy
Younger people tend to live longer with mesothelioma than the elderly.
Younger patients often are healthier and have fewer chronic conditions such as diabetes or heart disease. A younger person is able to tolerate aggressive treatments and recover more easily, too.
All of these things mean younger mesothelioma patients are eligible for more treatments and have better options for clinical trials than older patients.
These differences lead to longer life expectancy with mesothelioma for people diagnosed earlier in life.
Elderly Mesothelioma Life Expectancy
A 2019 study using data from The National Cancer Database looked at 4,526 newly diagnosed nonmetastatic malignant pleural mesothelioma patients 80 years and older.
Only 2% of this group received surgery and chemotherapy. Most of the group, 63% were observed (no treatment) and 22% were treated with chemotherapy alone.
Median survival in the observed group was 4.1 months versus 12.2 months in the chemotherapy plus surgery group. Median survival was 9.5 months in the chemotherapy group.
For the 8% of patients who had surgery (pleurectomy/decortication), 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.
Virginia Beach Pleural mesothelioma survivor diagnosed in 2005
“When I was originally diagnosed, they gave me a year and a half to live. That was 10 years ago.”
Women are much less likely to be diagnosed with mesothelioma, by an approximate 4-1 ratio. Women with epithelial mesothelioma also live longer, on average, compared with men with the same cancer.
The National Cancer Institute reports 15.6% of women with mesothelioma survive for five years. Only 8.8% of men live that long.
One reason women may live longer is they typically have had less intense exposure to asbestos. This may lead to less aggressive tumors.
Type of cancer also contributes to women’s longevity advantage after mesothelioma diagnosis.
About 90% of male cases are pleural mesothelioma. Approximately 8% are peritoneal. Among women, about 70% of cases are pleural and 24% are peritoneal.
With treatment, people with peritoneal mesothelioma live longer than pleural disease patients. Because there are more peritoneal and fewer pleural cases among women, they live longer, on average, as compared with men.
Overall Health and Other Medical Conditions
Having other chronic conditions, such as asbestosis, chronic bronchitis, 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.
Improving Life Expectancy with Treatment
Anticancer therapies improve life expectancy. Median life expectancy for stage 4 mesothelioma is approximately a year with treatment versus seven months without cancer therapy.
Treated stage 1 patients survive an average of three years versus two years’ survival with no treatment. Even surgery alone has proven to help patients live longer.
Patients with stage 1 or 2 disease may be eligible to receive multimodal therapy combining surgery, chemotherapy and radiation therapy.
Younger, healthier, stage 3 patients with epithelial or biphasic cell type may qualify for combination treatments, too.
Surgery may not be an option for some people with late-stage cancer, but if your health is good enough, you still may be eligible for this treatment approach.
A 2017 study found even for patients with advanced mesothelioma, pleurectomy-decortication surgery led to an average survival of nearly three years.
Clinical Trials and Emerging Treatments
Your best chance for improving life expectancy may come from clinical trials of experimental treatments.
Immunotherapy and photodynamic therapy have shown promise for extending mesothelioma life expectancy. Gene therapy and other targeted treatments are being studied as well.
Your cancer doctor can help you find clinical trials you may qualify for.
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Mesothelioma Life Expectancy Without Treatment
The average survival for people with pleural mesothelioma is about eight months without treatment.
Peritoneal mesothelioma responds well to treatment, often better than pleural disease. Peritoneal patients who qualify for hyperthermic intraperitoneal chemotherapy (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.
Improving Life Expectancy
A mesothelioma diagnosis is scary, but many people lived longer by taking active steps to improve their health.
“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.
Cancer patients who are better nourished have longer survival. Giving your body the fuel it needs to recover from aggressive treatments and maintain good immune function are important.
You may have heard or read about diets for mesothelioma patients. If you have questions about this, ask your doctor for a referral to see a cancer dietitian.
In general, though, an appropriate mesothelioma diet and good nutrition will provide plenty of protein to support recovery and enough calories to prevent weight loss.
Some experts study how mesothelioma patients benefit from combining conventional cancer treatment with alternative and complementary therapies.
Examples include acupuncture, meditation, massage and yoga. These therapies may reduce stress and pain and improve quality of life.
Some of the steps people take to improve live expectancy with mesothelioma include:
- Seeking a second opinion from a mesothelioma specialist
- Engaging in prayer, meditation and other spiritual practices
- 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 boost overall health
- Adjusting lifestyle habits to improve well-being
- Trying complementary therapies to boost immunity
Each patient is unique. No one treatment or approach will work for every person with mesothelioma.
Finding the right combination of conventional and supportive therapies to meet your needs can help you live better after a mesothelioma diagnosis.
10 Cited Article Sources
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Friedberg, J.S. et al. (2017, March). Extended Pleurectomy-Decortication-Based Treatment for Advanced Stage Epithelial Mesothelioma Yielding a Median Survival of Nearly Three Years. doi: 10.1016/j.athoracsur.2016.08.071
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Last Modified July 1, 2019