Written By: Dr. Daniel A. Landau,
Last modified: September 8, 2021

What Is the Life Expectancy for Mesothelioma?

The life expectancy for mesothelioma patients is around one year. It varies from person to person based on several factors, including type of mesothelioma. However, a patient’s cancer stage is the most impactful factor. Tumor size and the extent of their spread determines stages, which can help mesothelioma specialists plan the best course of treatment and evaluate a patient’s prognosis.

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 an overall outlook of how mesothelioma will affect your health.
  • Life expectancy and lifespan 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. Median overall mesothelioma survival is 15 months.
  • Average and median refer to different survival rate figures. The average is reached by dividing total survival time by the number of patients in a study. The median is the middle figure that separates the highest survival time from the lowest.

Life expectancy following a mesothelioma diagnosis greatly depends on the cancer’s stage, cell type and location where it originally developed. A patient’s age, gender and overall health also play a role in life expectancy.

Watch: Registered Nurse Karen Selby, a patient advocate at The Mesothelioma Center, offers hope regarding mesothelioma life expectancy.

It’s important to remember that while there are consistencies among cases of mesothelioma, every patient is unique. No two cancer journeys will be exactly the same. Each individual will have different combinations of these diverse variables that impact their respective life expectancy, which may also be improved with treatment and lifestyle shifts.

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    Life Expectancy for Different Mesothelioma Types 

    The part of the body where these different types of mesotheliomas originate is what defines them. Mesothelioma type has a big impact on life expectancy because cancer growth affects certain vital organs, such as the heart. 

    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 pleural mesothelioma patients live one year after their diagnosis.

    Peritoneal Mesothelioma Life Expectancy

    Approximately 50% of peritoneal mesothelioma patients live five or more years after diagnosis with aggressive treatment.

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

    Pericardial and Testicular Mesothelioma Life Expectancy

    One of the rarest mesothelioma subtypes is pericardial. This variant affects about 1% of patients and develops around the membranes surrounding and protecting the heart. Median survival for pericardial mesothelioma is about six to 10 months.

    Testicular mesothelioma is another rare form of the disease, comprising about 5% of cases. The lifespan for people with testicular mesothelioma is at least two years on average.

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    Key Factors of 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.

    PRIMARY FACTORS AFFECTING MESOTHELIOMA LIFE EXPECTANCY

    • Stage: The cancer stage describes how deep or far cancer has progressed.
    • Tumor Location: Location determines mesothelioma type, such as pleural or peritoneal.
    • Cell Type: Epithelial and sarcomatoid are cell types that respond differently to treatments.
    • Age: Younger patients often survive longer after a mesothelioma diagnosis.
    • Gender: Women and men differ in diagnosis and survival rates.
    • Health and Lifestyle: Chronic disease and poor habits can impact mesothelioma life expectancy.
    • Choice of Treatment: Response to treatments such as surgery or chemotherapy may affect survival.
    • Clinical Trials: Access to experimental clinical trial therapies can help extend survival.

    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.

    Mesothelioma 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.

    Mesothelioma life expectancy by stage

    Cancers are usually staged as 1-4. As the stage number increases, life expectancy decreases, and prognosis worsens. Prognosis worsens because the cancer is growing into vital organs.

    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. That’s because epithelial cells respond better to treatment.

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

    Mesothelioma survival rate 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 and 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.

    Quick Fact
    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.

    Life expectancy of mesothelioma patients by gender

    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.

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    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. Average life expectancy for stage 4 mesothelioma is approximately a year with treatment versus seven months without treatment.

    For someone just diagnosed, you’ll feel all alone at first. A real shock. Just don’t give up. Whatever treatment the experts say you need, just do it. For me, it was never in doubt. I had so much to live for.
    Chris Gibney
    Pleural Mesothelioma Survivor
    TREATMENTS THAT CAN IMPROVE MESOTHELIOMA
    LIFE EXPECTANCY
    • Surgery
    • Chemotherapy
    • Radiation therapy
    • Immunotherapy
    • TTFields
    • Clinical trials

    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

    Late-stage treatment options include chemotherapy, radiation therapy, immunotherapy and Tumor Treating Fields therapy. 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.

    A 2017 study found even for patients with advanced mesothelioma, pleurectomy and decortication surgery led to a median survival of nearly three years.

    Clinical Trials and Emerging Treatment

    For many patients, improving mesothelioma life expectancy involves participating in 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.

    Watch: Dr. Tirrell Johnson, an oncologist and immunotherapy clinical trials expert, talks with The Mesothelioma Center about the impact clinical trials can have on mesothelioma life expectancy.

    Mesothelioma Life Expectancy Without Treatment

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

    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.

    Deciding to undergo treatment is a difficult decision for many people with mesothelioma. Each person has a right to determine whether they believe the potential benefits of treatment outweigh the risks. Consider talking with your family and closest loved ones to help you decide whether treatment is right for you and which treatments you are comfortable with. There are no guarantees, but electing treatment is your best chance at living longer with mesothelioma.

    Survival by Type of Mesothelioma and Treatment Decision
    Type of Mesothelioma Survival With Aggressive Treatment Survival With Aggressive Treatment Survival With Aggressive Treatment
    Pleural Mesothelioma 3 years 1 year 8 months
    Peritoneal Mesothelioma 5 years 1 year 6 months
    Source: Based on multiple historical studies published in medical journals.

    Improving Life Span with Mesothelioma

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

    Work with a Doctor Specializing in Mesothelioma

    Doctors who specialize in mesothelioma tend to work for the country’s top treatment and research centers. These specialists include oncologists, surgeons and others who offer the latest and best treatments and clinical trials for mesothelioma.

    Many general oncologists often misdiagnose mesothelioma for more common cancers and illnesses. An early and accurate mesothelioma diagnosis from a specialist allows access to earlier treatments, such as surgery, that have a better chance of improving life span.

    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.

    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.

    Integrative 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, yoga and support groups. 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. Because of 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 is the leading causes of death. Chemotherapy can improve symptoms and extend life expectancy by several months. 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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