Mesothelioma is an aggressive and rare type of cancer. The average life expectancy for patients with mesothelioma is less than one year. However, the cell type, stage, and other factors can influence the survival rate. The patient’s condition, age, and treatment plan are also important considerations when calculating life expectancy.
If the disease is left untreated, the life expectancy for patients with mesothelioma is usually only a few months. A number of factors, including stage, cell type and the patient’s condition, can impact life expectancy for a particular patient. Treatment can also make a significant difference in extending life.
Life Expectancy for Mesothelioma Patients
In general, mesothelioma is an aggressive type of cancer. Without treatment, most patients have a life expectancy of less than a year. A study published in 2019 showed that overall survival for pleural mesothelioma patients who didn’t receive treatment was 10 months following diagnosis. For peritoneal mesothelioma, the life expectancy without treatment has been reported to be approximately 4 months.
These figures refer to the entire population of mesothelioma patients. However, they may not be a good representation of what an individual patient can likely expect. There are several factors that can make a difference in the life expectancy for a particular mesothelioma patient.
Factors Impacting Life Expectancy for Mesothelioma Patients
For peritoneal mesothelioma patients, a study published in the Annals of Surgical Oncology reported that overall survival for patients under age 65 was 85.6 months, while for patients age 65 or older, it was only 17 months.
Because of factors like the long latency period between asbestos exposure and the development of mesothelioma, most mesothelioma patients are older when they’re diagnosed. The American Society of Clinical Oncology reports that the average age for receiving a diagnosis of pleural mesothelioma is 72.
In general, patients with epithelioid tumors have the longest life expectancy. One study found that the life expectancy for patients with the epithelioid cell type was 17 months, compared with 9.6 months for those with sarcomatoid or biphasic tumors.
For those who are in good health before their diagnosis, the body will generally be better able to cope with the effects of cancer. However, those who have other chronic diseases or who are frail overall may experience significant effects of their cancer much earlier, causing them to die sooner.
In addition, many of the common treatments used for mesothelioma carry significant side effects, and patients need to be in good overall health to be able to undergo these treatments. For example, tumor-removing surgery can significantly extend a patient’s life expectancy. Those who are healthy enough to undergo surgery will be able to take advantage of this benefit, while those who aren’t able to tolerate surgery will not receive the extra time that surgery could offer.
A 2016 study found that a mesothelioma patient’s performance status significantly impacted overall survival. Patients with a good performance status (0 or 1) had an overall survival of 16 months, compared with 10.1 months for those with a more impaired performance status.
Mesothelioma is commonly treated using a multimodality approach, where several different types of treatment are used in order to eliminate as much of the cancer as possible. Patients who have a surgical procedure known as pleurectomy/decortication have been shown to have a life expectancy after surgery of 22.5 months.
Patients who were treated with a combination of chemotherapy and radiation therapy have been shown to have a median overall survival of 14.8 months, compared with 9.9 months for those receiving palliative care alone. There was a benefit to using both forms of therapy together instead of just one or the other.
Treatment for mesothelioma patients is highly individualized, and many factors are taken into account when deciding on a treatment plan. Your oncologist will talk with you about what they recommend in your specific case.
Managing the Financial Burden of Mesothelioma
The primary risk factor for the development of mesothelioma is exposure to asbestos. Many people were exposed to this mineral in the workplace. Even after companies knew about the dangers of asbestos, some still chose not to protect the health of their workers, causing many workers and their families to be unnecessarily exposed to a carcinogen.
Terms Used to Describe Life Expectancy
Life expectancy refers to the length of the time that a person is likely to live. When looking at the prognosis for mesothelioma patients, medical studies may report patients’ life expectancy after diagnosis, or they may use the term overall survival, which is very similar. Most commonly, studies report the median overall survival, which is the length of time after which half of the study population is still alive, and half have died.
The median is used instead of the average because outliers have a greater impact on the average. For example, if just a few patients live for a very long time, that can significantly increase the average life expectancy. The median may be a better representation of what most people can likely expect.
Overall survival takes into account whether people are alive. It doesn’t consider the cause of death for those who have died. It also doesn’t consider whether those who are alive still have evidence of cancer and whether their cancer is progressing. Because of this, when looking at cancer treatment modalities, studies may report progression-free survival rather than, or in addition to, overall survival.
Progression-free survival is the length of time after a treatment is started before a patient either has a progression of their cancer or dies. At the point of median progression-free survival, half of the patients are still alive and have not experienced the progression of their cancer. This gives a good representation of how much time a particular treatment is adding to patients’ lives.
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