For mesothelioma generally, the average life expectancy is around 12-21 months. However, many patients live longer depending on cell type, cancer stage, overall health, and treatment choices.
What is the life expectancy of a person with mesothelioma?
The average mesothelioma life expectancy ranges from 12 to 21 months, but many people live much longer with the disease. Some patients have doubled or tripled their life expectancies by finding the right doctor for their diagnosis.
The best way to increase your life expectancy may be to explore treatment options with an experienced specialist.
Prognosis explains the overall outlook of how mesothelioma will impact your or your loved one’s health and refers to much more than how long you may live. Life expectancy is a survival statistic for how long someone is estimated to live with mesothelioma, while prognosis additionally explains how your life may be affected with and without treatment. Your life expectancy and prognosis can change based on your doctor’s treatment plan and how you respond to it.
These survival statistics look to find consistencies among cases to give general estimates. However, just like no two patients are the same, no two cases of mesothelioma are the same. Factors like cell type, patient age, gender, overall health, and cancer treatment can impact an individual’s life expectancy.
Mesothelioma is a rare disease, and a general oncologist may not be equipped with the background or knowledge to successfully battle this disease. Our Patient Help Team is available to get you in touch with an experienced doctor.
Life Expectancy vs. Survival Rate
Patients may hear the term “survival rate” with their prognosis. Mesothelioma survival rate refers to the percentage of people who survive mesothelioma compared to the overall population. This rate, given as a percentage, is often referred to in one, three, or five-year increments:
- One-year survival rate: 73%
- Three-year survival rate: 23%
- Five-year survival rate: 10%
Life expectancy is defined as how long a patient can expect to live with their cancer. Life expectancy is a measure of time, often given in months. For malignant pleural mesothelioma, the average life expectancy is around 12-21 months.
Important Factors That Affect Life Expectancy
A few factors influence life expectancy a great deal; you can limit the influence these factors have on your life expectancy by getting specialized treatment from an experienced doctor.
The stages of mesothelioma describe how far the cancer has spread from where it originated. The further the disease has spread, the more advanced it is and the later the stage. A patient's life expectancy is greater in the earlier stages. The patient also has more effective treatment options in the earlier stages of the disease.
Doctors diagnose the stage of a pleural mesothelioma patient's disease as stages 1-4, with stage 4 being the most advanced stage. There is currently no accepted staging system for peritoneal mesothelioma, so doctors diagnose these patients as having either localized or advanced stage mesothelioma.
How Doctors Diagnose Stages of Pleural Mesothelioma (lung-based):
- Stage 1: The cancer is localized to the point of origin.
- Stage 2: The cancer has spread to the lung itself, part of the diaphragm, and nearby lymph nodes.
- Stage 3: The cancer spread throughout one side of the chest, into the chest wall, esophagus and more lymph nodes.
- Stage 4: The cancer has spread into both sides of the chest, affecting other organs, the blood, and bone cells.
Mesothelioma Life Expectancy by Stage:
- Patients with stage 1 or 2 pleural mesothelioma have an average life expectancy of 19 to 21 months.
- Patients with stage 3 or 4 pleural mesothelioma have an average life expectancy of up to 16 months.
- Patients with peritoneal mesothelioma who receive surgical treatment often have life expectancies greater than 5 years.
While the stage of your disease can help determine your life expectancy, it is important to remember that current statistics are based on the average lifespan of all mesothelioma patients. These averages include patients who did not receive treatment from a specialist; therefore, your life expectancy could be far better with the right provider and treatment.
The location of mesothelioma affects your life expectancy. Where the tumor originates — whether in the lining of the lungs, abdomen, heart, or testes — determines which treatment options are available to you.
Pleural mesothelioma originates in the lining of the lungs, called the pleura. The average life expectancy for most patients with mesothelioma in this location ranges from 4 to 18 months without treatment. More life-extending treatment options are available if you have been diagnosed with pleural mesothelioma because doctors have more experience treating it. This type of mesothelioma accounts for 75% of all diagnosed cases.
Peritoneal mesothelioma originates in the peritoneum, which is the lining of the abdomen,, and patients diagnosed with peritoneal mesothelioma have the best life expectancy. The average life expectancy for patients diagnosed with peritoneal mesothelioma is 12 months without treatment. Several studies have shown that having cytoreduction with HIPEC has extended the life expectancy of some patients to 5 years and beyond.
Pericardial mesothelioma originates in the pericardium, which is the protective lining of the heart,. It’s rare, accounting for about one percent of all diagnoses. The life expectancy for patients with pericardial mesothelioma is 6 months. Pericardial mesothelioma has limited treatment options because of its rarity and sensitive location in the body.
Mesothelioma Cell Type
Mesothelioma cell type has a huge impact on your life expectancy. There are three cell types: epithelioid, sarcomatoid, and biphasic. Each cell type behaves — and responds to treatment — differently. Doctors determine the cell type of a tumor when they diagnose you. Identifying the cell type helps them create the most effective course of treatment for your diagnosis.
Epithelioid Cell Type
Epithelioid cells are egg-shaped and stick to each other as they spread. As a result, they spread slowly, making epithelioid mesothelioma the most treatable cell type with the best prognosis. The average life expectancy of a patient with epithelioid mesothelioma ranges from 12 to 27 months.
Sarcomatoid Cell Type
Sarcomatoid cells are spindle-shaped and spread quickly to other parts of the body, which makes them less responsive to treatment. The average life expectancy of a patient with sarcomatoid mesothelioma ranges from 7 to 18 months. However, a recent three-year study called “Checkmate 743” suggests an improved life expectancy when patients with sarcomatoid mesothelioma are treated with immunotherapy.
Biphasic Cell Type
Biphasic tumors are made up of both epithelioid and sarcomatoid cells. The ratio of the two cell types determines the effect a biphasic mesothelioma tumor will have on your life expectancy. More epithelioid cells result in a longer life expectancy, because epithelioid cells spread slowly and respond better to treatment. The average life expectancy of a patient with biphasic mesothelioma ranges from 8 to 21 months. This may be improved with immunotherapy.
Patient Sex, Age & Overall Health
Patients with good health tend to have longer average survival than patients in poor health. These patients are typically better candidates for more aggressive treatment options like surgery.
In general, younger people diagnosed with mesothelioma live longer than older people who may have poorer health or preexisting conditions. While mesothelioma occurs many decades after asbestos exposure and patients are generally older when diagnosed, patients diagnosed before the age of 45 can live up to six times longer than patients diagnosed after age 75.
Similarly, gender plays an important role in prognosis, as women diagnosed with mesothelioma tend to live longer than men. One NCI study on peritoneal mesothelioma found women have a five-year survival rate three times that of men. More men are diagnosed with mesothelioma than women. This disparity in mesothelioma cases may be due to working in occupations that were exposed to asbestos during the height of its use. However, women can also be exposed to asbestos from their family members’ work. Parents and spouses bring asbestos fibers home on their skin, clothing, and shoes, as well as in their vehicles.
Other conditions can also be risk factors that impact prognosis. Patients with some conditions, like COVID-19 and lung cancer, may not be able to manage the side effects of aggressive treatment to limit metastasis. This, in turn, could limit life expectancy. Some patients have other conditions or take medication that may prevent them from receiving full doses of chemotherapy or being a surgical candidate.
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Mesothelioma Treatments That Could Improve Life Expectancy
Surgery is generally the most effective way for mesothelioma patients to extend their life expectancy. There are surgical options for pleural and peritoneal mesothelioma. If your doctor says you aren't eligible for surgical treatment, get a second opinion from another mesothelioma specialist.
There are two surgeries for patients with pleural mesothelioma: the extrapleural pneumonectomy (EPP) and the pleurectomy with decortication (P/D). One study reported that undergoing EPP increased the overall survival rate of patients to about 27.5 months. The (P/D) —a less invasive procedure for patients with pleural mesothelioma — has produced results similar to the EPP, extending the survival rate of pleural mesothelioma patients to about 20 months. P/D may also be combined with chemotherapy post-operatively to further improve a patient’s prognosis.
Cytoreductive surgery with heated intraperitoneal chemotherapy (HIPEC) is the most effective surgical option for peritoneal mesothelioma. There are reports of patients increasing their life expectancy to greater than 7 years with this treatment.
Chemotherapy is a treatment that uses medications to kill cancer cells and shrink tumors. It can often be combined with other treatments to improve a patient’s prognosis. For example, chemotherapy can be used following surgery to eliminate cancer cells that the surgeon could not visualize or safely remove. Patients who undergo chemotherapy, including pemetrexed (Alimta) and cisplatin or carboplatin, can double their life expectancy compared to those who choose not to undergo treatment.
Radiation therapy uses high doses of radiation to treat cancer by killing mesothelioma cells. This radiation damages targeted cells, which hinders growth and helps to shrink tumors. Radiation therapy is most effective against localized tumors and, as a result, is most impactful during early-stage mesothelioma. It can also be used for patients who are not candidates for surgery. Radiation therapy can improve life expectancy by about 40 percent.
A promising, newer treatment option, immunotherapy is used to stimulate the immune system to fight cancer on its own. In particular, the combination of two immune checkpoint inhibitors, Opdivo® (nivolumab) and Yervoy® (ipilimumab), has been shown to improve survival by 50 percent and is an FDA-approved treatment for malignant pleural mesothelioma. More significantly, a recent three-year study showed that treatment with immunotherapy increased survival rates for patients with sarcomatoid and biphasic mesothelioma, bringing their prognosis more in line with the less aggressive form of mesothelioma.
Multimodal therapy is the combination of two or more treatment options, including surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy. Overall, using more than one treatment has improved the life expectancy of patients with mesothelioma in any location.
According to a few recent studies, pleural mesothelioma patients who had an EPP combined with chemotherapy and radiation therapy experienced a median survival rate ranging from 13 to 23.9 months. Those who had a multimodal therapy combining P/D with chemotherapy and radiation therapy resulted in an even better survival rate of 30 months.
Cytoreduction with HIPEC is also a form of multimodal treatment. It’s a combination of surgery to remove tumors in the abdomen and heated chemotherapy applied directly to the abdominal cavity which kills microscopic cancer cells after the procedure.
Emerging treatments are developed and tested in clinical trials by medical researchers, doctors who find better ways to treat patients. If you’ve been diagnosed with stage–three or stage–four mesothelioma, you may not qualify for traditional treatments, like the EPP or a P/D. You may, however, benefit from emerging treatments researchers are testing in clinical trials. Some of these treatments include immunotherapy, gene therapy and photodynamic therapy.
Mesothelioma Life Expectancy Without Treatment
Patients who choose not to undergo treatment for malignant pleural mesothelioma have a life expectancy of around six months for all cell types combined. However, this life expectancy statistic varies significantly based on cancer stage, cell type, location of tumors, and the patient’s overall health.
There are many reasons mesothelioma patients may choose not to undergo treatment but you should discuss all treatment options with an experienced doctor before deciding on your care plan.
Getting Help with Treatment
No matter your diagnosis — the cancer stage, cell type, and location of the mesothelioma — getting specialized treatment from an experienced doctor will help you improve your prognosis and quality of life.
If you’d like to know more about how mesothelioma affects your life expectancy — and what you can do to improve yours — speak to a member of our Patient Help Team. We’re here to answer your questions, and can even help connect you to an experienced mesothelioma doctor. Request a call from a team member today, or get a free copy of our mesothelioma help guide.
Mesothelioma Life Expectancy FAQs
Is mesothelioma always fatal?
There is no cure for mesothelioma, although some patients have been able to go into short-term remission. Mesothelioma caught in an early stage has a better prognosis with more treatment options available compared with later stages, leading to a better chance of long-term survival. Additionally, maintaining good overall health can improve your prognosis.
How long can someone with mesothelioma expect to live?
For all stages and cell types of mesothelioma combined, life expectancy is around 12-21 months. Mesothelioma prognosis is generally better for cancer found in earlier stages, and for the epithelioid cell type. Treatment can improve life expectancy.
How quickly does mesothelioma progress?
While asbestos exposure may extend back to infancy, it does not cause mesothelioma to develop for decades afterward.. Later-stage (3-4) disease tends to progress more quickly than early-stage disease. Certain types of cancer cells, like sarcomatoid and biphasic mesotheliomas, grow and metastasize to other areas of the body more quickly. Other cell types like epithelioid mesothelioma, are less aggressive.
What is the longest someone has lived with mesothelioma?
While mesothelioma is not curable, some patients have gone into remission and survived for decades. Finding mesothelioma early and getting appropriate treatment increases your chance of long-term survival.
Which cell type has the best life expectancy?
The most common mesothelioma cell type, epithelioid, accounts for around 75% of all mesotheliomas and has the best prognosis and longest survival time of the three cell types. These statistics are further affected by where in the body the epithelioid mesothelioma develops.
How can I get help with a mesothelioma diagnosis?
To learn more about mesothelioma or to find information on cancer treatment and experienced doctors, contact Mesothelioma Group at (800) 333-8975.
American Cancer Society. Survival Statistics for Mesothelioma. Accessed on 2/17/16. Retrieved from: http://www.cancer.org/cancer/malignantmesothelioma/detailedguide/malignant-mesothelioma-survival-statistics
National Cancer Institute. Malignant Mesothelioma Treatment. Accessed on 2/17/16. Retrieved from: http://www.cancer.gov/types/mesothelioma/patient/mesothelioma-treatment-pdq
Flores, Raja et al. The Journal of Thoracic and Cardiovascular Surgery. "Extrapleural pneumonectomy versus pleurectomy/decortication in the surgical management of malignant pleural mesothelioma: Results in 663 patients." March 2008.