Mesothelioma Prognosis and Survival Rates

Quick Summary

There are quite a few terms used in the discussion of mesothelioma that can be confusing to someone just learning about the topic. For example, the terms prognosis and diagnosis are quite similar but have very different meanings. Likewise, the phrases "life expectancy" and "survival rate" can understandably be somewhat puzzling.

Life expectancy refers to the length of time that a patient is expected to live. This can be based on a variety of individual patient characteristics. Survival rates, on the other hand, refer to statistics that reveal the length of time mesothelioma patients will live after diagnosis. Survival rates display the percentage of patients who participated in a study or underwent treatment who survive for a certain span of time post-diagnosis. Rather than being based on patient-specific factors, survival rates draw on historical patient data and statistics.

These rates can be broken down into more specific categories, such as survival rates for early stage vs. late-stage patients and younger vs. older demographics. Doctors also consider survival rates when predicting life expectancy for a given patients.

How Survival Rates Are Discussed

Mesothelioma survival rates are discussed in increments of time. You may see survival rates for six months, one year, and anywhere from two to ten years commonly used in literature about the subject. One of the reasons that mesothelioma survival rates tend to be lower than some other forms of cancer is that many cases are not diagnosed until the cancer is more advanced (late stage). Often with mesothelioma, symptoms do not appear until many years after asbestos exposure has occurred.

Survival rate data shows that 55% mesothelioma patients will live 6 months from the time of diagnosis. 33% will live 1 year after diagnosis, and just 9% will live 5 years. However, these rates vary based on the type of treatment undertaken and a number of other factors.

Survival Rates Are Improving

Studies show that survivorship for both pleural and peritoneal mesothelioma are improving. As well, as new treatment approaches are introduced, survival rates are positively impacted. For example, the combination of cytoreductive surgery with Hyperthermic Intraperitoneal Chemotherapy (HIPEC) has contributed significantly to the improvement of the prognosis for peritoneal mesothelioma.

Factors Affecting Survival Rates

Patient-specific characteristics also impact the survival rates of mesothelioma. Gender, age, and even race can influence survival rates. Of course, the standard factors are still important: the location of the mesothelioma tumor, the disease stage, and the cell type that forms the tumor are all crucial considerations in determining and categorizing survival rates.

It’s clear that age plays a role because younger mesothelioma patients have a higher survival rate than older patients. Over half of patients under the age of 50 will live for one year after diagnosis. Older patients are much less likely to live one year after being diagnosed. Part of this is due to the greater number of aggressive treatment options that younger patients qualify for. With older patients, it is often not worth the risk to undergo intensive treatments or invasive surgeries. Instead, doctors may consider palliative cancer treatments to improve the patient’s quality of life and manage discomfort.

Still, the average age of diagnosis for mesothelioma patients is 73. As a result, the average and median survival rates are heavily impacted by this fact.

Gender

Studies show that women have historically experienced better survival rates than men. The reason for this is not conclusive, but researchers are exploring both genetic and hormonal possibilities. If industry experts can discover the reason behind the gender difference in survival rates, this could help them understand how treatments for men could be adjusted or improved.

Women are also less likely to have mesothelioma because they were less likely to have been exposed to asbestos in an occupational setting. Occupational asbestos exposure in the chief cause of mesothelioma. Still, women who lived near industrial settings that used asbestos were sometimes exposed; other times, they were exposed to the fibers on other people’s clothing.

Race

Race is also a factor by which survival rates can be measured against. However, in the case of mesothelioma, the vast majority of patients are white, comprising 95% of cases. Again, this may be due to higher rates of asbestos exposure in an occupational setting. However, race can also factor into survival rates for any type of cancer.

Histology

The histology of a mesothelioma tumor is one of the most commonly referred to indicators of survivorship. Of the three main cell types (epithelial, sarcomatoid, and biphasic), epithelioid mesothelioma renders higher survival rates. Epithelial cells are the most responsive to treatment. Sarcomatoid mesothelioma can be highly resistant to treatment and the tumors are more likely to spread and grow aggressively. This cell type is more difficult to treat. Biphasic mesothelioma falls somewhere in the middle. This type of tumor includes both epithelioid cells and sarcomatoid cells. The effectiveness of treatment depends in part on the ratio of epithelioid cells to sarcomatoid cells.

The chart below details the median survival rate for mesothelioma patients, based on cell type:

Cell TypeMedian Survival Time
Epithelial19 months
Biphasic13 months
Sarcomatoid8 Months


Mesothelioma Stage

Stages of Mesothelioma Update

The stage of the cancer is one of the most important factors when discussing survival rates. Staging describes the extent that the cancer has spread from where it originated—in other words, how advanced the mesothelioma has become. Of course, the further it has spread, the harder it is to treat. Patients with earlier stage mesothelioma also qualify for more treatment options, so the survival rate is higher for these patients.


Unfortunately, mesothelioma symptoms often do not manifest for anywhere from 10 to 50 years after asbestos exposure. By this time, the cancer is often already advanced. The nature of this disease is one of the reasons survival rates are relatively low.

Considering Mesothelioma Survival Rate Statistics

It can be grim to look at the survival rates for mesothelioma. Even though survival rates are improving, the reality of the statistics is far from where we want it to be. Coping with the tough nature of this disease is something all mesothelioma patients experience. There are a few things you can think about to put these numbers into perspective. Consider that much of the data doesn’t include data from recent patients who have received cutting-edge treatment.

Many of the patients whose cases make up the statistics also did not receive treatment from a mesothelioma specialist. As well, your prognosis is your own. No one else’s experience with mesothelioma is going to be the same as yours. You and your doctor can work to improve your prognosis as much as possible, and that can be rewarding in and of itself.

Talk to your doctor about how you can work to exceed the survival rates. If you need further support in coping during this often difficult process, your doctor can provide you with the resources you need. Your family, friends, and other patients who are going through a similar time can hopefully offer some comfort so that you can maintain a productive and fulfilling lifestyle despite the stress.

Treatments and Research for Improved Mesothelioma Survival

Survival rates for mesothelioma are improving and hopefully will continue to do so as patients receive more effective treatments and specialized care. Research and a continued dedication to understanding this rare cancer type will only improve our ability to treat mesothelioma effectively. As more patients receive treatments such as surgery with HIPEC and other promising new therapies in clinical trials, we hope to see great advances in prognosis.

In the meantime, you can improve your chances of beating the statistics by finding the right mesothelioma specialist to oversee your treatment. Contact us to connect with some of the brightest minds in the industry. We’ll help you find the high-quality and exceptional care that you’re entitled to.