Mesothelioma can reduce a patient’s life expectancy by an average of eight years.
The term “life expectancy” refers to the average time a person is expected to live. It is currently 78 years old in the U.S.
Most mesothelioma patients are diagnosed at 69 and live less than 12 months. This translates to an average drop in life expectancy of about eight years.
However, statistics do not decide your destiny. Improved therapies and emerging drug combinations offer newly diagnosed patients a reason to hope.
Factors Affecting Mesothelioma Life Expectancy
Your life expectancy is affected by factors unique to your cancer and your health.
The primary factors affecting life expectancy include:
- The cancer’s stage, type and the cells in the tumor
- Your sex, age, overall health, lifestyle and blood characteristics
- The treatments and clinical trials you try
|Stage 1||22.2 months|
|Stage 2||20 months|
|Stage 3||17.9 months|
|Stage 4||14.9 months|
Source: Journal of Thoracic Oncology
The exact stage of the cancer is the greatest predictor of life expectancy.
Staging refers to how far the cancer has progressed at the time of the diagnosis. As the mesothelioma stage increases, life expectancy decreases.
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Type of Mesothelioma
Life expectancy differs for surgical patients with pleural and peritoneal mesothelioma.
- People with pleural mesothelioma who undergo surgery live an average of three years.
- People with peritoneal mesothelioma may live longer than five years with surgery.
Peritoneal mesothelioma is currently easier to treat with surgery than pleural mesothelioma. Electing surgery increases the peritoneal mesothelioma life expectancy more than it does for pleural patients.
Both types have a one-year life expectancy among late-stage patients who only undergo chemotherapy.
The rarest types of mesothelioma affect the heart (pericardial mesothelioma) and testes (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.
Mesothelioma patients with epithelial tumors live 200 days longer than patients with biphasic or sarcomatoid cells.
This is because the cells that make up a mesothelioma tumor respond differently to treatment.
How Your Body Affects Life Expectancy
Younger people tend to live longer with mesothelioma than the elderly. About 43 percent of patients under 45 live at least five years with mesothelioma.
Only 5.7 percent of patients over 65 live that long.
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.
Women with epithelial mesothelioma tend to live longer than male patients.
The National Cancer Institute reports 15.6 percent of women with mesothelioma survive for five years. Only 8.8 percent of men live that long.
Researchers are not yet sure why women have better life expectancies.
Some biomarkers found in the blood appear to have an impact on life expectancy. For example, high platelets and high white blood cells prior to surgery are associated with shorter life expectancy.
Your doctor can explain your blood test results and how they may affect your prognosis.
Living Longer With a Mesothelioma Diagnosis
Patients often ask, “Is mesothelioma always fatal?” While there is no cure for this cancer, some people have achieved remission. This means part or all of the cancer is gone at least temporarily. Some have lived for years with few symptoms.
Today, patients who qualify for surgery are living longer than before. Some patients outlive their prognosis with immunotherapy available through clinical trials.
Those who live for years after a diagnosis provide inspirational mesothelioma survival stories for other potential survivors.
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.”
Although the disease can change you forever, many survivors continue to lead active lives, traveling and doing activities with grandkids and other loved ones.
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 boost overall health
- Adjusting lifestyle habits to improve well-being
- Trying complementary therapies to boost immunity
Mesothelioma Treatment’s Effect on Life Expectancy
Research shows anti-cancer treatment will help you live longer than electing no treatment. For example, mesothelioma life expectancy at stage 4 is around a year with treatment versus seven months without treatment.
Early-stage treatments can extend life expectancy longer than late-stage treatments. Mesothelioma life expectancy at stage 1 is upwards of three years with treatment compared to two years without treatment.
Patients with stage 1 or 2 may qualify for multimodal therapy. It is a combination of aggressive surgery, chemotherapy and radiation therapy. This approach has the most positive impact on survival rates.
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 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 has progressed this far, clinical trials are offering immunotherapy. Trials also offer potentially improved forms of chemotherapy and radiation therapy to people with late-stage mesothelioma.
Clinical Trials & Emerging Treatments
There is a chance your best opportunity for extending life expectancy could come from experimental treatment in a clinical trial.
Researchers are investigating several experimental therapies that slow the progress of mesothelioma. Immunotherapy and photodynamic therapy 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.
Mesothelioma Life Expectancy Without Treatment
If left untreated, the average survival for pleural mesothelioma is about eight months and six months for the peritoneal type.
These figures apply to patients diagnosed in later stages of cancer development. Patients diagnosed with the earliest stage of mesothelioma (stage 1A) live about two years without treatment.
Treatment helps late-stage pleural patients live at least a year and helps early-stage pleural patients live about three years. Peritoneal patients who qualify for hyperthermic intraperitoneal chemotherapy (HIPEC) have a 50 percent chance of living longer than five years.
Health & Lifestyle Impacts 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.
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. Others strengthen their spirituality or find other ways to foster peace of mind.
A number of mesothelioma patients have survived for years because of lifestyle changes that had positive impacts on treatment side effects, stress levels and their bodies’ natural ability to heal.
Alternative Therapies and Integrative Oncology
Studies show mesothelioma patients have benefitted from combining traditional cancer treatment with complementary therapies. Examples include acupuncture, meditation, massage and yoga. These therapies may reduce stress and pain and improve quality of life.
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Mesothelioma Life Expectancy Research
Research studies and clinical trials are working to improve the life expectancy of mesothelioma patients.
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.
Studies on Mesothelioma Life Expectancy
- A 2011 study published in the Japanese Journal of Clinical Oncology found surgery more than doubled survival from less than 10 months to almost two years.
- A surgical procedure called pleurectomy and decortication (P/D) improved survival in a 2012 study published in Lung Cancer. Patients with epithelial cells who had a P/D lived 30 months. Those who had the lung-removing extrapleural pneumonectomy procedure (EPP) lived 14 months.
The landscape of mesothelioma treatment is constantly evolving, and treatment is becoming increasingly personalized.
Financial Costs of Improving Your Life Expectancy
Cancer treatment to improve your life expectancy can cost tens of thousands of dollars.
- Chemotherapy costs around $7,000 to $30,000
- Radiation therapy costs about $10,000 to $50,000
- Surgery costs nearly $40,000
Health insurance will help cover a lot of the cost of treatment. But, many patients with insurance are left with co-pays and out-of-pocket costs that amount to thousands of dollars.
Financial assistance from government programs, nonprofit charities and legal claims is the best way to offset the high costs of cancer treatment.
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Last Modified November 5, 2018
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