Mesothelioma 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.

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 (OS), 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, then that can significantly increase the average life expectancy. The median may be a better representation of what most people can likely expect.

Overall survival simply 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 (PFS) is the length of time after a treatment is started before a patient either has 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 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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    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

    Factors that can impact life expectancy for mesothelioma patients include the stage and cell type of the cancer, the patient’s age and medical condition at the time of diagnosis and the treatments that are chosen.

    Stage

    The stage of a cancer refers to how advanced the cancer is and takes into account the size and extent of the original tumor as well as whether it has spread to nearby lymph nodes or more widely throughout the body. For pleural mesothelioma, a system of four stages is commonly used, with stage 1 being the earliest stage and stage 4 being the most advanced.
    A study published in the Journal of Thoracic Oncology demonstrated the effect of stage on life expectancy for pleural mesothelioma patients. The overall survival for patients was:
    These numbers are for the entire population of pleural mesothelioma patients; most of them were undergoing treatment for their cancer, so these numbers include the effects of treatments.

    Age

    Patients who are younger at the time of diagnosis have a better prognosis than those who are older. This likely reflects the better overall health of the younger population compared to those who are older. For example, in a 40-year-old man diagnosed with early-stage pleural mesothelioma, life expectancy is six years. If he’s 80 years old when he receives the same diagnosis, then his life expectancy is only two years.

    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.

    Cell Type

    The cell type of the cancer refers to certain characteristics of the cancer cells themselves and is determined by a pathologist during the process of diagnosis. There are three primary cell types: epithelioid, sarcomatoid and biphasic.

    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.

    Medical Condition

    A patient’s overall health is also an important factor in their prognosis. A common measure of patients’ overall health is known as performance status. This takes into account a patient’s ability to tolerate physical activity and perform many of the tasks of daily life independently. Performance status is reported as a number from 0 to 5, with higher numbers indicating more impairment.

    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.

    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.

    Treatment

    Although mesothelioma is considered to be incurable, there are treatments available that can improve life expectancy for some patients. Not all patients are eligible for all types of treatments. For example, to undergo surgery for mesothelioma, patients generally need to be in an early stage, have an epithelioid or biphasic tumor and be in good overall health.

    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 financial burden of a mesothelioma diagnosis can be considerable. In many patients, multiple different treatment modalities are used. Even for those who have health insurance, there are significant costs associated with this medical treatment, and these can become a source of financial stress for many patients and their families.

    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.
    Courts have found companies liable and have required them to provide compensation for the harm that they caused. If your mesothelioma was caused by exposure to asbestos at work, then you may be eligible to receive a financial settlement that could help pay for your treatment. If you believe that you might fall into this category, you should contact a lawyer with experience in the field of mesothelioma litigation. Due to the statute of limitations, there’s a limited amount of time after your diagnosis when you’re eligible to file, so it’s important not to wait.

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