Mesothelioma is an asbestos-related cancer that is both malignant and highly-aggressive. Because it may spread quickly, seeking assistance from a mesothelioma specialist may provide optimal treatment procedures that can improve quality of life and increase life expectancy.
Mesothelioma Life Expectancy
Because mesothelioma is an aggressive disease that may progress rapidly, life expectancy for patients with a mesothelioma diagnosis is often given in a number for months. On average, most patients will receive a prognosis which indicates life expectancy may be 4 to 12 months, though some patients have more time.
Factors that Affect Life Expectancy
There are a number of factors that are used to estimate life expectancy for patients with mesothelioma. These include:
Stage of Disease – The more advanced mesothelioma has become, the shorter the patient’s life expectancy will be. Those who are diagnosed in earlier stages (1 and 2) will have a longer life expectancy than when the disease is diagnosed at stage 3. Patients with advanced, metastatic mesothelioma are given a Stage 4 diagnosis, indicating that the patient likely has only a few months to live.
Location or Type – The type of mesothelioma will also affect the life expectancy. Pleural mesothelioma life expectancy is longer than peritoneal mesothelioma. Pericardial mesothelioma is generally not diagnosed until Stage 4 and the patient will have a prognosis of an average of 4 months.
The location of tumors may also affect the life expectancy. When tumors are present in areas that may affect vital organs and cannot be easily treated or removed with surgery, life expectancy will be lower. Testicular mesothelioma generally remains more localized and surgical removal is often more successful giving these patient as much as 24 months.
Cell Type – Mesothelioma is caused by genetic changes in certain cells of the mesothelial layer including epithelioid, sarcomatoid and biphasic. Each cell type may exhibit different behavior and some will spread faster than others, decreasing the life expectancy.
When a patient is diagnosed with any type of cancer, after the shock and other emotions have subsided, the first question may be, “How much time do I have left?” Patients want to know how much time they can expect to live without significant pain and disability. Doctors may find it difficult to identify this number or to communicate the information effectively. Consulting with a mesothelioma specialist will ensure that the right diagnosis and life expectancy is identified and communicate this information in a clear manner.
Improving Life Expectancy
Giving a life expectancy is an estimate that uses the disease characteristics and previous experience with other mesothelioma patients, but some patients will live longer, particularly when all treatment options are explored and the patient participates in their plan.
Getting a second opinion will help the mesothelioma patient confirm that the diagnosis and staging of the disease have been done accurately. Asking for a second opinion is essential, particularly when a serious disease such as mesothelioma is diagnoses. In some cases, the second opinion may identify factors that change the life expectance.
Seeing a mesothelioma specialist will help the patient ensure that the most optimal treatment medications and procedures are used. Some treatments are not yet approved, but are available through investigational or clinical trials. Mesothelioma specialists are available in several parts of the country, conducting exactly the type of research needed to improve life expectancy for patients with
Pleural mesothelioma diagnosed in early stages may have a life expectance of 15 to 30 months, while those in late stages, may only have 5 to 12 months. This is due to how far the cancer has spread and how much it has affected other organs. This will affect what treatment options are available such as surgery, radiation, chemotherapy or advanced treatments.
The cell type of mesothelioma tumors also affects life expectancy. Patients whose mesothelioma tumors have been shown to be caused by epithelioid cells have a life expectancy that may be twice as long as those with biphasic cells, which is slightly longer than those with sarcomatoid cellular tumors. The type of cell that has caused the tumor may impact how the patient’s disease responds to treatment, with epithelioid cellular tumor treatment possibly more effective than other types.
The age of the patient may also have an effect, with those who are over 65 often expected to live 6 months on average. This varies from patient to patient however, and good overall health may significantly increase life expectancy.
Peritoneal mesothelioma affects the abdomen and is much rarer than the pleural type. In the case of a peritoneal mesothelioma diagnosis, the advice of a specialist is essential. The average life expectancy in peritoneal mesothelioma is 12 months but those with epithelioid cell types may have a longer period of time. In addition, as with pleural mesothelioma, the staging of the disease is a significant factor.
In general, peritoneal mesothelioma patients have longer life expectancies than other types, this may be because the cancer does not appear to spread as quickly and treatment options, particularly surgery, depend more on health status of the patient than the Stage of cancer. Successful surgery may improve life expectancy dramatically to as much as 50 or 60 months (5 years). Some patients may live even longer with successful surgical treatments. This is one reason why mesothelioma specialists are needed to determine the most appropriate and potentially successful treatment procedures and plan for peritoneal mesothelioma patients.
Pericardial mesothelioma affects the pericardium, a “sac” surrounding the heart. As the disease is so rare and symptoms often mimic other disorders, this type of mesothelioma is not often diagnosed until Stage 4. At this advanced stage, the life expectancy is generally only a few months. There is often little that can be done with the exception of palliative treatments to improve the patient’s quality of life.
Testicular mesothelioma is the rarest type of mesothelioma, responsible for less than 30 new diagnoses each year. Because of its rarity, it should be treated by a mesothelioma specialist. Patients with testicular mesothelioma have a much longer life expectancy than those with other types. Because the cancer does not spread outside of the scrotal area easily, the median life expectancy is 20 to 23 months but with appropriate treatment, some patients have lived for as long as 15 years.
Mesothelioma Cell Types
Mesothelioma tumors are comprised of three different cell types, each with its own growth pattern. The type of cell is also a factor in estimating life expectancy.
- Epithelioid Cells – most common and most treatable with the longest life expectancy. They do not usually spread as quickly as other cell types and because epithelioid cells are present in other types of cancer, more is known about effective treatments.
- Biphasic Cells – a combination of both epithelioid and sarcomatoid cells with a medium life expectancy. Because the cells have traits of the two other types, cellular behavior may be unpredictable, making treatment more difficult and estimates of life expectancy less accurate.
- Sarcomatoid – a difficult-to-treat type of cell with the lowest life expectancy. Sarcomatoid cells form tumors with pockets of fluid, rather than solid tumors, which allows cancerous cells to spread more quickly into lymph nodes and to other organs (metastasize).
Each patient’s disease is a unique combination of disease type, tumor location, cancer stage and cell type. Because of the cancer’s characteristics and the patient’s specific health concerns, it is essential to find a mesothelioma specialist who will have the experience and expertise in treating mesothelioma, along with knowledge and access to advanced, investigational therapies that may increase life expectancy.