Mesothelioma Survival Rates

Survival rates for mesothelioma refer to the amount of time patients with mesothelioma live after a diagnosis. Overall, about 40 percent of mesothelioma patients survive the first year after diagnosis. These rates vary based on many factors: Age, race, gender, cancer stage and mesothelioma type.

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Historically, survival rates for mesothelioma are measured in terms of one-year survival. However, many mesothelioma patients are beating the odds and living far beyond median survival rates thanks to advances in treatment.

Additionally, five-year survival for mesothelioma patients has steadily improved since 1999, according to the latest report from the National Cancer Institute’s Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results (SEER) Program.

Long-term survivors attribute their success to a multidisciplinary approach to treatment from mesothelioma specialists, alternative medicine, clinical trials and nutritional changes.

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Mesothelioma Survival Rate vs. Life Expectancy

While these terms are often used interchangeably, mesothelioma life expectancy and survival rates carry different meanings.

Life expectancy refers to the average age a person is expected to live based on the year they were born, where they were born and other demographic factors. An aggressive cancer, such as mesothelioma, can shorten this average.

Survival rates come into play after a person is diagnosed with cancer or another serious health condition. These rates show the percentage of patients in a study or treatment group who are still alive for a certain period of time following a diagnosis.

Researchers describe the mesothelioma survival rate in several ways — usually six-month and one-year survival, but also the percentage of patients who live two years, three years and five years.

Mesothelioma has no definitive cure and most cases are diagnosed in the latter stages, after tumors have spread — a main reason why survival rates are generally lower compared to other cancers.

Thoracic surgeon Dr. Jacques Fontaine talks about the three things mesothelioma patients can do to increase their survival rate.

Factors that Affect Survival Rate

Quick Fact

Current five-year survival for mesothelioma patients is around 9 percent, while 67 percent of patients diagnosed with cancer of any other site survive at least five years.

Survival rates for mesothelioma cancer vary by the patient’s age, gender, race and several other factors. The location, stage and cell type of the cancer, as well as your overall health, have the strongest influence on your mesothelioma prognosis.

Age

Overall, older mesothelioma patients have a much lower survival rate than younger ones. More than 55 percent of patients diagnosed before the age of 50 live one year, but less than 30 percent of patients 75 or older live the same amount of time.

This difference is largely because younger patients are eligible for more intensive treatments such as surgery. Older individuals may not be candidates for these procedures because of poor overall health or a high risk of complications.

Mesothelioma One-Year Survival by Age Range

Age Range Survival Rate
< 50 57.2%
50 – 64 51.2%
65 – 74 40.9%
75+ 28.5%

Rates are similar for long-term survival. Patients diagnosed before age 50 have nearly a 25 percent chance of surviving a decade, while that drops sharply — to 5.4 percent — for patients between the ages of 50 and 64.

However, it is rare for someone younger than 50 to be diagnosed with mesothelioma. The average age at diagnosis is 73.

The five-year survival rate for patients diagnosed between ages 65-74 is 6.7 percent. That rate falls to 3.8 percent for those 75 or older.

Chris Gibney

Beating the Odds: Chris Gibney

Chris Gibney credits his medical team and strong support from his family and friends for his long-term survival. Shortly after his pleural mesothelioma diagnosis in 2005, Gibney underwent an aggressive pleurectomy and decortication surgery. Now 70, he is celebrating more than a decade of remission.

Read Chris’ Story

Gender

Research shows women with mesothelioma experience nearly three-fold better survival rate compared to men. After analyzing mesothelioma cases reported in the National Cancer Institute’s SEER database from 1988 to 2013, researchers found the overall five-year survival rate for men was 7 percent, compared with 15 percent for women.

Mesothelioma Survival Rates by Gender

Gender 1 Year 2 Years 3 Years 4 Years 5 Years
Males 37.6% 17.4% 10.4% 7.7% 5.9%
Females 45.4% 29.3% 22.2% 18.6% 16.0%

Most asbestos exposure occurs in the workplace, particularly in industrial jobs traditionally held by men. That helps explain why men account for the majority of all mesothelioma cases.

When asbestos use was far more pervasive decades ago, the few women who did develop a related illness were usually exposed because they lived near mines or factories — especially those that processed the mineral. Women also found themselves exposed by spouses, family members or friends who worked around asbestos and brought home the tiny fibers on their clothes.

Quick Fact

From 1999 to 2015, 80 percent of Americans who died from mesothelioma were older than 65, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Although numerous factors contribute to patient survival, women with mesothelioma appear to survive longer than men regardless of age, cancer stage, race or type of treatment. For every age group studied in the SEER program, women fared significantly better than men.

There is currently no conclusive answer as to why, but some researchers believe the improved survival could be explained by hormonal differences between genders.

Women are also more likely to be diagnosed with peritoneal mesothelioma, which carries a better prognosis compared to the more common pleural type.

Sallie Morton

Beating the Odds: Sallie Morton

Sallie Morton was 87 when she received her pleural mesothelioma diagnosis in July 2013. She felt she was too old to go through treatment, but that didn’t stop her from living far past her life expectancy. Morton is among the 8.3 percent of women in her age range who survived more than four years after a diagnosis.

Read Sallie’s Story
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Featured Story

Women: The New Faces of Mesothelioma

The gender gap is closing as mesothelioma incidence rates among women are on the rise. Women now comprise nearly one-fourth of all cases.

Read the Story

Race

Mesothelioma is almost exclusive to white individuals, who make up 95 percent of patients.

This vast difference may be in large part because black and Hispanic individuals are less likely to be diagnosed with any type of cancer, mesothelioma included. Data from SEER shows blacks and Hispanics account for only 8 percent of all cancer diagnoses.

Mesothelioma Survival Rates by Race

Race 1 Year 2 Years 3 Years 4 Years 5 Years
White* 39.7% 20.2% 12.9% 9.8% 7.8%
Black* 35.2% 21.4% 16% 14.3% 12%
*Data includes Hispanics

Although race does not appear to impact mesothelioma survival rate much initially, race becomes a more telling factor as time passes. From three years on, the survival rate of white patients is slightly worse than black patients.

Five-year survival among whites is 7.8 percent, compared with 12 percent for blacks. After 10 years, only 4.4 percent of white patients survive, while 8.2 percent of blacks are alive a decade after diagnosis.

SEER data used to calculate these survival rates includes Hispanics among patients who identify as both black and white. Because mesothelioma is rarer among other races, reliable survival statistics are not available.

According to a 2015 study analyzing 13,734 pleural mesothelioma cases in the SEER database, black patients lived longer than white patients despite being less likely to undergo aggressive surgery. Only 18 percent of black patients in the study had surgery, compared to 24 percent of white patients.

Typically, mesothelioma patients who have surgery survive longer than those who do not.

Kasie Coleman

Beating the Odds: Kasie Coleman

Peritoneal mesothelioma survivor Kasie Coleman was 34 when she received her diagnosis. After two cytoreductive surgeries and a pair of HIPEC procedures, Coleman has been in remission since June 2012. When she’s not running her Sugarbelle Bakery business in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, she enjoys traveling with her husband and checking items off her bucket list.

Read Kasie’s Story

Cancer Site

There are four types of mesothelioma, and the site where the cancer originates can greatly affect patient survival.

Quick Fact

Half of peritoneal patients who undergo HIPEC live longer than five years.

Of the two most common mesothelioma types — pleural and peritoneal — survival is significantly better for peritoneal mesothelioma patients. This, however, has not always been the case.

Before the emergence of an advanced peritoneal mesothelioma therapy called hyperthermic intraperitoneal chemotherapy (HIPEC) that combines cytoreductive surgery and heated chemotherapy, median survival for untreated patients was about six months.

This compares to a median survival of less than 12 months for patients with untreated pleural mesothelioma. In select studies, heated chemotherapy has boosted peritoneal mesothelioma survival to between 40 and 92 months.

According to a 2015 meta-study analyzing 20 years of data from 1992 to 2012, the five-year survival rate for peritoneal mesothelioma patients is more than five-times higher than the rate for pleural patients.

Mesothelioma Survival Rates by Site

Pleural Peritoneal
1 year 73% 92%
3 years 23% 74%
5 years 12% 652%
10 years 4.7% 39%
Source: “Changing Pattern in Malignant Mesothelioma Survival,” published in the journal Translational Oncology in February 2015.

The remaining two types — pericardial and testicular mesothelioma — when combined, account for less than 2 percent of all mesothelioma cases. Median survival for testicular mesothelioma, the rarest type, is 24 months. About 40 percent of patients die from the disease.

Pericardial mesothelioma, which develops on the lining of the heart, has a median survival ranging from six to 10 months.

Alyssa Hankus

Beating the Odds: Alyssa Hankus

Alyssa Hankus is one of the youngest long-term mesothelioma survivors in the U.S. She was diagnosed with advanced peritoneal mesothelioma at age 15. Thanks to surgery and the HIPEC procedure, Hankus has been in remission since 2002. She now lives every day to the fullest and looks forward to what the next chapter of her life has in store.

Read Alyssa’s Story

Stage of Cancer

The stage of your cancer at diagnosis is a strong predictor of overall survival. Survival is best among people diagnosed with mesothelioma at an early stage, before cancer spread starts to limit treatment options.

Early-stage patients who receive prompt treatment experience improved survival because they are more likely to qualify for surgery and other aggressive treatments associated with better outcomes.

Pleural Mesothelioma Median Survival Rate by Stage

Stage 1 Stage 2 Stage 3 Stage 4
19.3 months 11.6 months 4.7 months 2.7 months
Source: “Malignant Pleural Mesothelioma: A Population-Based Study of Survival,” published in the Journal of Thoracic Oncology in November 2010.

Typically, pleural mesothelioma is not diagnosed until it reaches stage 3 or stage 4, the last stages of development. This can include a larger tumor or extensive cancer spread throughout the body. Later stages of mesothelioma are more difficult to treat effectively, so these patients have worse survival rates.

A late diagnosis is common because it can take 20 to 50 years after asbestos exposure for mesothelioma to develop, and many people don’t experience symptoms until the cancer has already reached an advanced stage.

While there is no established staging system for peritoneal mesothelioma, some researchers have proposed their own systems based on the TNM system, which uses tumor size, lymph node involvement and cancer spread to describe the extent of many types of cancer.

One such novel staging system has three stages based on TNM characteristics and a measure of tumor burden called the peritoneal cancer index (PCI). In a 2011 international study involving 294 peritoneal mesothelioma patients treated with cytoreductive surgery and heated chemotherapy, researchers used this system to describe patient survival.

One-year survival for stage 1 patients was 94 percent, 87 percent for stage 2 and 66 percent for stage 3. The researchers also calculated five-year survival, which was 87 percent for stage 1, 53 percent for stage 2 and 29 percent for stage 3.

Russell Lamkins

Beating the Odds: Russell Lamkins

Russell Lamkins was diagnosed with stage 3 inoperable pleural mesothelioma in August 2014. Doctors told him he had a year to live. But Lamkins beat his grim prognosis thanks Moffitt Cancer Center’s transarterial chemoperfusion study, led by thoracic surgeon Dr. Jacques Fontaine. The novel treatment involves delivering high-doses of chemotherapy directly to specific blood vessels that feed tumors.

Read Russell’s Story

Tumor Histology

The histology, or cellular makeup, of a mesothelioma tumor is also an accurate predictor for patient survival. Mesothelioma has three primary cell types: Epithelial, sarcomatoid and biphasic. They differ not only in appearance, but also in behavior.

With a median survival of 12 to 24 months, epithelioid mesothelioma — the most common cell type — has the best prognosis. Epithelioid cells are the least aggressive and respond best to treatment.

Sarcomatoid mesothelioma, on the other hand, has a median survival of six months. Sarcomatoid tumors exhibit more aggressive behavior in terms of cell growth and invasive spread. Biphasic mesothelioma, which has both epithelioid and sarcomatoid features, has a median survival of 12 months.

Median Survival Rate by Tumor Histology

Epithelial 19 months
Biphasic 13 months
Sarcomatoid 8 months

In a large, multi-institutional study that investigated how tumor histology and other factors affect survival, researchers observed similar survival rates. Among more than 3,000 pleural mesothelioma patients, the epithelioid cell type had the best survival rate, with a median survival of 19 months. Sarcomatoid patients experienced a median survival of eight months, the worst outcome of all cell types. Median survival for biphasic patients was 13 months.

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Karen Selby, RN and Patient Advocate at The Mesothelioma Center

Karen Selby joined Asbestos.com in 2009. She is a registered nurse with a background in oncology and thoracic surgery and was the director of a tissue bank before becoming a Patient Advocate at The Mesothelioma Center. Karen has assisted surgeons with thoracic surgeries such as lung resections, lung transplants, pneumonectomies, pleurectomies and wedge resections. She is also a member of the Academy of Oncology Nurse & Patient Navigators.

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Sources
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