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What Is the Life Expectancy for Mesothelioma?

Mesothelioma life expectancy is about one year but can vary between six months and five years based on mesothelioma location, cancer stage, cell type, treatment and other factors. A patient’s age, gender and overall health also influence life expectancy. Mesothelioma is rare, making survival more challenging to approximate than other, more common cancers.

Survival statistics such as life expectancy are general estimates that doctors use to explain a patient’s mesothelioma prognosis. Prognosis is an overall outlook of how mesothelioma will affect your health, while life expectancy and lifespan describe how long someone is estimated to live with mesothelioma.

While there are consistencies among mesothelioma cases, every patient is unique. No two mesothelioma cases are the same. Each person will have different combinations of these diverse variables that impact their respective life expectancy, which can improve with specialized treatment and changes to lifestyle habits.

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 patients with pleural mesothelioma live one year after diagnosis.

Peritoneal Mesothelioma Life Expectancy

The life expectancy for peritoneal mesothelioma patients is about 12 months with chemotherapy, but approximately 50% of patients live five years or more with aggressive treatments such as surgery.

Surgery for mesothelioma in the abdomen is more accessible than it is for pleural mesothelioma and improves life expectancy more than with pleural patients.

Pericardial Mesothelioma Life Expectancy

Patients with primary pericardial mesothelioma have an average life expectancy between three and 10 months after diagnosis.

Pericardial mesothelioma develops within the heart’s protective sac, making surgical options for extending life expectancy more challenging. This is one of the rarest variants of mesothelioma, affecting only 1% of patients.

Testicular Mesothelioma Life Expectancy

On average, life expectancy for people with testicular mesothelioma is between 20 months and two years after diagnosis. Some patients live several years after surgery or other treatment if testicular mesothelioma is diagnosed early.

Testicular mesothelioma is a rare variant, comprising about 5% of cases. Surgery is generally more accessible, and the prognosis is better for testicular mesothelioma than pleural and other forms of the disease.

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Key Factors of Mesothelioma Life Expectancy

Early detection and treatment are critical factors for extending a mesothelioma life expectancy. Your life expectancy is essential to your prognosis, which is the overall outlook of how mesothelioma will affect your body and life span.

There are aspects of your cancer you can’t control, such as cancer cell type and stage. However, you can take some matters into your own hands, including having effective mesothelioma treatments, participating in clinical trials and improving your overall health through lifestyle choices.

Cancer Stage

The stage of mesothelioma at diagnosis is the most important factor determining life expectancy. Staging is typically ranked from 1-4 and describes the extent of metastasis or malignant tumor growth at the time of diagnosis. Pleural and peritoneal mesotheliomas have a one-year life expectancy for late-stage patients who undergo only chemotherapy.

Bar graph showing mesothelioma life expectancy by stage. Life expectancy diagnosed at stage is 21 months, 19 months at stage 2, 16 months at stage 3 and 12 months at stage 4.

Surgery is most effective for patients with early-stage mesothelioma, extending life expectancy by nearly two years. As cancer progresses, however, surgery becomes less effective and more dangerous but can reduce pain and other symptoms through palliative therapy.

Tumor Location

As mesothelioma tumors grow, they may press against vital organs such as the heart and diaphragm. Pleural mesothelioma tumors can impact your ability to breathe or the heart’s ability to pump blood through the body. Large tumors within cardiac tissue decrease life expectancy more than tumors along the chest wall.

Peritoneal mesothelioma tumors in the abdomen can damage the kidneys or liver, leading to metabolic failures and a wide range of mesothelioma symptoms that make misdiagnosis more likely. Tumor location also makes surgery riskier if tumors are embedded in sensitive organs.

Cell Type

Life expectancy for patients with epithelial mesothelioma exceeds those with sarcomatoid or biphasic cell types by an average of five months. Epithelial mesothelioma has a better prognosis because it responds well to treatment and is less likely to recur after surgery.

Sarcomatoid mesothelioma tends to be more aggressive, with a greater tendency to metastasize and resist treatment. However, some immunotherapy drugs and other targeted therapies are more effective against sarcomatoid or biphasic cells.

Mesothelioma survival rate in months by cell type.

Age

Younger people tend to have a longer mesothelioma life expectancy than older patients. Younger mesothelioma patients are often healthier, making them eligible for more treatments and clinical trials than older patients. While surgery can provide improved life expectancy in older mesothelioma patients, the risks of this aggressive approach are significant.

A 2019 study from the National Cancer Database found that the median survival for patients 80 years and older who receive surgery and chemotherapy was 12.2 months. Patients who only received chemotherapy survived 9.5 months on average. Of the 8% of patients who had surgery, 28.5% died within 90 days.

Gender

Women are about four times less likely to be diagnosed with mesothelioma than men. On average, women with epithelial mesothelioma also live longer than men with the same cell type. Historically, more men held blue-collar jobs with higher risks of asbestos exposure that could lead to more aggressive tumors.

Women are more likely to be diagnosed with peritoneal mesothelioma, which carries a better life expectancy and prognosis. A 2020 study published in The American Journal of Surgical Pathology reported a five-year survival rate of 77.8% in women and 50% in men with peritoneal mesothelioma who underwent cytoreductive surgery with heated chemotherapy.

Overall Health and Lifestyle Choices

Chronic conditions, such as asbestosis, chronic bronchitis and emphysema (COPD), obesity, diabetes or heart disease, can decrease life expectancy after a mesothelioma diagnosis. A healthy diet and regular exercise lower the risk of diabetes and cardiac disease, which make cancer management much more challenging.

Smoking coupled with asbestos exposure significantly increases a person’s risk of developing lung cancer. Tobacco use does not directly cause mesothelioma but can worsen overall health in people with the disease, leading to shorter survival after diagnosis.

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How Treatment Improves Life Expectancy

The average life expectancy for stage 4 mesothelioma is approximately a year with treatment versus seven months without treatment. Screening and early detection significantly improve life expectancy, as does seeking treatment at a specialized cancer center that can offer more aggressive treatments such as surgery and multimodal therapies.

Late-stage treatment options include chemotherapy, radiation therapy, immunotherapy and Tumor Treating Fields. Surgery is not usually an option for late-stage mesothelioma. However, a 2017 study found that even for patients with advanced mesothelioma, pleurectomy and decortication surgery led to nearly three years of median survival.

Common Mesothelioma Treatment Options

Patients with stage 1 or 2 diseases may be eligible for multimodal therapy combining surgery, chemotherapy and radiation therapy. Utilizing multiple therapies lowers cancer resistance and increases life expectancy. Younger, healthier stage 3 patients with epithelial or biphasic cell type may also qualify for combination treatments.

  • Surgery: Surgical procedures such as pleurectomy and decortication can improve life expectancy by more than 45%.
  • Chemotherapy: Pemetrexed (Alimta) and cisplatin chemotherapy nearly double life expectancy for some patients compared to no treatment.
  • Radiation: Radiotherapy is an effective alternative for patients who aren’t candidates for surgery. The combination can improve life expectancy by about 40%.
  • Immunotherapy: Checkpoint inhibitor immunotherapy, such as Opdivo and Yervoy, improves life expectancy by about 30% for some patients.
  • TTFields: The FDA approved Tumor Treating Fields for mesothelioma in 2020. It can extend life expectancy by nearly 50%.

For many patients, improving mesothelioma life expectancy involves participating in clinical trials that test experimental treatments such as immunotherapy, gene therapy and other targeted treatments.

Mesothelioma Life Expectancy Without Treatment

The average pleural mesothelioma life expectancy without treatment is about six to eight months for patients diagnosed in stage 4. People diagnosed with the earliest stage of pleural mesothelioma live an average of two years without treatment.

Average peritoneal mesothelioma life expectancy without treatment is approximately six months. Peritoneal mesothelioma responds well to treatment, but cancer progresses quickly without therapy. Patients who qualify for surgery with hyperthermic intraperitoneal chemotherapy, also known as HIPEC, have a 50% chance of living longer than five years.

Consider talking with your family and closest loved ones to help you decide whether the potential benefits of treatment outweigh the risks. There are no guarantees, but electing treatment is your best chance at living longer with mesothelioma.

Best Ways to Improve Life Expectancy with Mesothelioma

A mesothelioma diagnosis is challenging, but you can take active steps to improve health and extend your life expectancy, such as seeking specialized treatment and improving nutrition.

  • Work with a Mesothelioma Specialist: Doctors who specialize in mesothelioma include oncologists, surgeons and others who offer the latest and best treatments at the country’s top treatment and research centers.
  • Increase Activity Level & Fitness: “Performance status” refers to a patient’s activity level and general fitness. It significantly affects life expectancy and the ability to withstand and recover from aggressive cancer treatments.
  • Maintain a Healthy Diet: Cancer patients require adequate nutrition to recover from treatments and maintain immune function. An appropriate mesothelioma diet provides the protein and calories needed to prevent weight loss.
  • Consider Integrative Medicine: Complementary or integrative medicine refers to nonmedical approaches combined with proven cancer treatment. Examples include acupuncture, meditation and yoga, which may reduce stress and pain.

It’s essential to always consult your doctor before starting any new diet, exercise or complementary therapy. Over-the-counter supplements may cause drug interactions with certain cancer medications.

Common Questions About Mesothelioma Life Expectancy

Has anyone survived mesothelioma?

Many people survive mesothelioma and live beyond their predicted life expectancy. A doctor’s prognosis can change to reflect a patient’s response to treatment. Some people with mesothelioma have managed to live many years after their diagnosis.

Mesothelioma treatment options, such as chemotherapy and radiation, improve life expectancy by reducing tumor size and preventing the growth and spread of cancer. After treatment, some mesothelioma patients go many months or several years before cancer grows or returns.

What is the longest someone has lived with mesothelioma?

Some mesothelioma patients have lived more than 10 years after their diagnosis, such as Michelle M., who was diagnosed with peritoneal mesothelioma in 2002 at age 44. Tamron Little, a contributing writer for The Mesothelioma Center, has survived 15 years with peritoneal mesothelioma.

Tim C. was diagnosed with pleural mesothelioma in 2002 and underwent an extrapleural pneumonectomy at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. He’s lived 10 years since then and attributes his success to his family.

Which type of mesothelioma has the longest life expectancy?

Peritoneal mesothelioma has the longest life expectancy due to the effectiveness of the heated intraperitoneal chemotherapy procedure performed alongside surgery. A 2018 study reported that median disease-free survival with HIPEC was almost five years, and median overall survival was more than eight years

What happens in the final stages of mesothelioma?

In end-stage mesothelioma, symptoms are more severe and treatment is limited. Stage 3 mesothelioma patients have trouble breathing and experience chest pain, weight loss and fever. Because of significant tumor involvement, patients are often 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 cause 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.


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