Female doctor looking at x-ray imageMost people who are diagnosed with mesothelioma want to know their life-expectancy.  Life-expectancy is based on mesothelioma survival rates which are statistical averages of how long prior patients have lived after diagnosis.  Though mesothelioma survival rates have traditionally been low, they are improving due to increasing knowledge, earlier detection and newer treatments.

Mesothelioma survival rate statistics help determine a patient’s prognosis and an estimate of how long they may live.  Unlike life-expectancy which is given in a range of months, survival rates are given as a percentage of patients who are still living at intervals of time such as 1 year, 2 years and 5 years after diagnosis.  As an example, the life expectancy of a mesothelioma patient is 12 to 21 months, depending on the stage of the disease.  This correlates to an overall one-year mesothelioma survival rate of approximately 40 percent, but by 5 years, fewer than 10 percent are still living.

Mesothelioma survival rates are an average of past patient experiences for each cancer type, cell type and demographic group.  As each patient and each case of mesothelioma is unique, survival rates are not always accurate in predicting outcome.

Statistics and Mesothelioma Survival Rates

Statistics are measurements of factual information that have been reported over time.  Patients and family members should remember that survival rates are only estimates and though they are based on past experiences, they are not always correct.  Some patients may live much longer than expected.

In addition, any statistical listings, including those about mesothelioma, are subject to certain inaccuracies.  Mesothelioma survival rate statistics may be misleading due to:

  • Mesothelioma is rare – Unlike other cancers which may result in tens or hundreds of thousands of new cases each year, mesothelioma is a very rare type of cancer with only 3,000 new diagnoses annually.  Because of these low numbers, when mesothelioma information is not reported accurately, there is a bigger impact on the average and estimates may be inaccurate.
  • Statistics are not current – Statistics about mesothelioma survival rates are a picture of the past.  They are compiled from information about previous cases and cannot predict future survival.  In addition, it takes at least one year, sometimes much longer, for statistics to be compiled.  This means by the time the “latest” data regarding mesothelioma survival rates is available, it is already somewhat out of date.
  • Newer treatments are not considered – Newer treatments for mesothelioma are continuously under development and may be available as part of an investigational trial.  Each of these new treatments may have a positive impact on mesothelioma survival rates in the future but will not be shown in available mesothelioma survival rate listings.  Patients may be able to improve their chance of survival through consultation with a mesothelioma specialist with access to clinical trials.
  • Underreporting – As statistics are reported to specific agencies such as the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the National Cancer Society (cancer.org).  Patients who were not treated by mesothelioma specialists may not have been reported accurately or may have been reported as another type of cancer.  Underreporting may also include reports with inadequate or missing information which will may not be included as part of survival rates.

Including all disease types, cell types, treatments and demographic groups, expected mesothelioma survival rates are:

  • One-year survival rate of 40%
  • Two-year survival rate of 20%
  • Five-year survival rate of 5 to 10%

Though these rates are low, mesothelioma survival rates are improving due to newer treatment availability and some patients survive much longer than expected.

Mesothelioma Survival Rates by Type

The type or location of mesothelioma has an impact on survival rates.  Traditionally, pleural mesothelioma survival rates have been higher but newer, aggressive therapies have changed the outlook for some patients.

  • Pleural mesothelioma – As with other types of mesothelioma, the one-year survival rate of pleural mesothelioma is estimated at 38 to 40 percent. However, at the second year end, survival rate drops significantly to only 11 percent.  Some statistics show that surgery, particularly extra-pleural pneumonectomy (removal of one entire lung) may double survival rate, while a less-invasive surgery of pleurectomy with decortication increases life expectancy by as much as 30 percent.  When surgery is combined with chemotherapy and radiation treatments, survival rates may be much higher.
  • Peritoneal mesothelioma –The one-year survival rate of peritoneal mesothelioma is estimated at 40 percent but this form of the disease has a much higher second-year survival rate at 35 percent. The development of the multi-modal treatment of cytoreductive surgery with heated chemotherapy (HIPEC) has significantly increased the survival rate of peritoneal mesothelioma victims. Patients who undergo HIPEC have a survival rate that is twice that of those who are treated by other means.
  • Testicular mesothelioma – Survival rates of testicular mesothelioma are much harder to predict as this type of the cancer is so rare. It accounts for less than 1 percent or only 20 to 30 new cases each year but the prognosis for testicular mesothelioma is often considered to be better with a greater potential for long-term survival.
  • Pericardial mesothelioma – Survival rate statistics are nearly impossible to predict as it is extremely rare and 90 percent of pericardial cases are not diagnosed until after the patient has died.

Mesothelioma Survival Rates by Stage

Because mesothelioma is so rare and symptoms of the cancer are similar to other diseases or conditions, mesothelioma is often misdiagnosed.  Lack of recognition of symptoms may delay mesothelioma diagnosis until the later stages of the disease.  Mesothelioma diagnosed at later stages has a much lower survival rate than when the cancer is diagnosed early.  When diagnosed in earlier stages, the patients may:

  • Have more treatment options
  • Be better able to withstand aggressive treatments
  • Have additional time to try multiple treatment regimens
  • Be more likely to be eligible for clinical trials

Combining surgery with other modalities such as radiation and chemotherapy may also improve survival rates, particularly when the disease is treated early.

Mesothelioma Survival Rates by Cell Type

Mesothelioma cells are categorized into three different types of mesothelioma based on microscopic examination of the tissue, also known as histology.  The three types of mesothelioma cells: epithelioid, sarcomatoid and biphasic, each have a different survival rate.

Epithelioid cells are oval in shape and “stick” to one another.  Even though they divide more rapidly than other cell types and may produce large tumors, the disease does not spread as easily.  The two-year survival rate of mesothelioma with epithelioid cell type can be estimated as high at 70 percent if multimodal treatment including surgery is used.

Sarcomatoid cells are longer and narrow, with large nuclei but tumor development is “disorganized”, “loose” and tumors may contain fluid centers.  Sarcomatoid mesothelioma cells may easily break free of the original tumor and spread through the lymph system.  Because of this, sarcomatoid mesothelioma has a much lower survival rate than epithelioid disease with a two-year survival rate of approximately 20 percent if the patient is treated with a multimodal approach.  When a less aggressive approach is taken, the survival rate may be even lower.

Biphasic mesothelioma tumors are made up of both epithelioid and sarcomatoid cell types.  Behavior of tumors will depend on whether epithelioid or sarcomatoid cells makes up a larger portion and will often determine survival rates.  Biphasic mesothelioma that is more epithelioid in nature, generally has a better prognosis than those that are mainly sarcomatoid and overall, biphasic disease has a lower life expectancy due to the difficulty of treating two types of cells.

Mesothelioma Survival Rates by Age and Gender

Gender has a significant effect on mesothelioma survival rates.  Women have a higher survival rate of about 45 percent at one year and 14 percent at five years and may be as much as two or  three times that of men.  There are several factors which may have an impact on female vs. male survival rates including:

  • Hormonal differences in women and men
  • Women typically have 40 percent more routine health screening which may afford opportunity for earlier diagnosis.
  • Men may have suffered greater asbestos exposure, both in amounts of exposure and length of time exposed as men are more likely to have been employed in asbestos-related industries.

Age also plays a factor mesothelioma prognosis.  In general, older patients have a lower survival rate than those who are younger.  When mesothelioma is diagnosed before the age of 50, the one-year survival rate may be as high as 50 percent and a 5-year survival rate of 20 percent.  Those who are 75 and older have a one-year survival rate of 33 percent and a 5-year survival rate of only 1 percent.

Age may be important because the immune system of a younger person is more able to fight inflammation and inhibit disease progression.  There may also be other factors, including:

  • Greater latency time since asbestos exposure, allowing for greater disease development
  • Declining health related to aging, which may prohibit the use of aggressive therapies

Total life expectancy in the U.S. is just under 79 years of age and may also play a significant factor in role in survival rates of older patients.

Prognosis, life-expectancy and survival rates are simply estimates or averages based on past experiences of all patients.  Each patient is unique and some patients may live much longer than expected.  Seeking treatment from a mesothelioma specialist will help the patient ensure that diagnostic procedures are performed thoroughly and accurately and that treatment regimens are appropriate.