If you’ve had exposure to asbestos at some point in your past, you could face a diagnosis of mesothelioma at some point in your life. When this happens, most people ask what is the life expectancy of a person with mesothelioma?
Unfortunately, the prognosis following a mesothelioma diagnosis is not usually very good. But that’s not always the case. There are various types of mesothelioma, and some have a better prognosis than others. Age and general health also play a part in life expectancy.
Mesothelioma Life Expectancy Factors
There are a number of things that influence the severity of a mesothelioma diagnosis.
- Type of mesothelioma
- Stage of the diagnosis
- Your age and gender
- Overall health
Type of Mesothelioma
The type of mesothelioma is the single most significant factor in survivability rate. The type depends on what region and organs of the body are affected by the cancer.
Pleural Mesothelioma (Lungs)
The kind of mesothelioma that affects the lungs is called pleural mesothelioma. This is where asbestos fibers became lodged into the membrane that lines and protects the lungs and the chest cavity. After years of irritation from these fibers, pleural mesothelioma is likely to develop.
This is the most common form of mesothelioma. Unfortunately, it’s also the form that has the worst prognosis.
40 percent of people who are diagnosed with pleural mesothelioma only live for one year. This low survivability is due to the fact that as the tumor grows, it pushes against the lungs and the chest cavity. This makes it difficult to breath and can lead to severe complications like pneumonia or heart failure.
Only 9 percent of patients actually live longer than five years.
Keep in mind that these statistics take all pleural mesothelioma patients into account, but many other factors can influence the life expectancy of a person with mesothelioma. It’s important to take these into account as well.
Peritoneal Mesothelioma (Abdomen)
When a person is exposed to and swallow asbestos dust at some point in their lives, it can lead to peritoneal mesothelioma.
This is where the asbestos fibers become lodged into the lining of the abdomen and settles there for many years. This eventually leads to peritoneal mesothelioma. This is not as serious as pleural mesothelioma, but it’s still a serious diagnosis with a difficult prognosis.
Current studies show that about half of these mesothelioma patients who receive traditional abdominal cancer treatments can live longer than five years.
Again, this prognosis can be further influenced by age, health, and many other factors.
Pericardial Mesothelioma (Heart)
The form of mesothelioma that affects the heart is known as pericardial mesothelioma. This is where asbestos fibers become lodged in the membrane that lines and protects the heart, and leads to a tumor there.
The medical community still doesn’t understand how the asbestos fibers migrate to the heart. However, when this occurs, the prognosis usually isn’t very good. Swelling of the lining around the heart can cause extremely serious medical complications that can lead to death.
Because it’s so serious, almost 50 percent of patients who face this diagnosis only live for six months to a year. It’s possible to live for five years, but only if the patient is in excellent health, younger at diagnosis, and immediately starts medical treatment.
Although it’s the rarest form of mesothelioma cancer, it also has the best prognosis. This form of mesothelioma affects the lining around the testical.
Unless the cancer has spread to other organs or parts of the body, surgery has the highest success rate. Studies show many patients survive for longer than 10 years after surgery and other traditional cancer treatments.
Just like other forms of mesothelioma, survivability rates can significantly increase if the tumor is spotted at a younger age, and if the patient is in good health.
Stage of the Diagnosis
When mesothelioma is caught early, it provides patients and doctors a fighting chance to treat the cancer aggressively, and buy the patient many more years of survival.
Beyond the type of mesothelioma the patient has, the stage of the cancer is the second most significant factor in how long patients can survive with mesothelioma.
The stage refers to how large the tumor is and whether they’ve metastasized to other organs or parts of the body.
Stage 1 refers to the earliest stage of mesothelioma cancer, meaning that the tumor has just formed and hasn’t spread anywhere beyond the original site.
Stage 4 refers to the most advanced stage of the disease where the tumor’s growth is significant, and has spread to other parts of the body through the blood stream.
Patients with a stage 1 mesothelioma prognosis have a very strong fighting chance to survive the illness longer than most other patients. This is true for every form of mesothelioma.
At this stage, the tumor has just started developing in the mesothelium lining and the cancer hasn’t spread. Doctors typically split stage 1 into two additional stages – 1A and 1B.
In stage 1A, the tumors have formed in one or two layers of the mesothelium lining, but have not progressed any further than that. In stage 1B, the tumors have spread to more of the mesothelium lining and potentially some surrounding tissue. But even at stage 1B the cancer hasn’t spread to any other parts of the body.
According to the latest research, almost half of the patients diagnosed with Stage 1A mesothelioma have lived at least two years. About 16 percent of Stage 1A patients live at least five years. Stage 1B patients have only slightly lower survival rates. About 41 percent live about two years, and 13 percent live roughly five years.
In stage 2 mesothelioma, the tumors have spread beyond the mesothelium lining and into surrounding organs like the lung or heart tissue (depending on the type of mesothelioma).
In this stage, the cancer cells have also spread into the lymph nodes, where they may have also entered into the blood stream. If cancer enters the bloodstream, it has the potential of spreading to any other part of the body.
The diagnosis of stage 2 mesothelioma has less to do with the size of the tumor itself and more to do with whether the cancer is starting to spread.
By stage 2, the survivability rate drops a little more. 38 percent of patients with stage 2 mesothelioma live about two years. 10 percent of patients live about five years.
Traditional cancer treatment can still be effective at stage 2, but the spread of cancer cells into the bloodstream makes successful treatment a bit more difficult.
By the time mesothelioma cancer has entered stage 3, it is still focused mostly within the mesothelium lining around the affected organ. However, it has started to spread into parts of the surrounding organs and tissue.
This could involve tissues and organs like the diaphragm, the chest wall, the heart sac, and more.
A diagnosis of stage 3 means that even though the cancer may have spread to local tissues or organs, it has not yet spread to “distant” organs elsewhere in the body.
The way doctors decide whether or not surgery will be effective for patients with stage 3 mesothelioma is how extensively the cancer has spread to surrounding organs. If the spread isn’t too extensive, doctors may attempt surgery even if the cancer has spread to surrounding lymph nodes. If the spread is too extensive, surgery may not be an option.
The life expectancy of a person with mesothelioma in the third stage of diagnosis is significantly less than the first two stages. Research shows that 30 percent of stage 3 mesothelioma patients will live for two years. 8 percent of patients will live for up to five years.
In stage 4 mesothelioma, the tumors have metastasized and migrated to distant organs and tissues in the body away from the original site of the mesothelioma.
The reason doctors want to aggressively treat stage 3 mesothelioma as quickly as possible is because once patients get into stage 4, surgery isn’t usually possible. Patients are either too weak for surgery or it isn’t possible to remove all of the tumors that have formed throughout the body.
Unfortunately, the prognosis at stage 4 is usually terminal, so doctors will focus on quality of life and trying to extend life as long as possible.
Most patients diagnosed with stage 4 mesothelioma live an average of 12 months after diagnosis.
Your Age and Gender
The age and gender of patients also plays a part in the life expectancy of a person with mesothelioma.
The age of a patient affects their general health, ability to respons favorably to surgery, and the ability to heal. Because of this, the older a patient is, the more dramatically the survivabilty rate drops.
According to The Mesothelioma Center, the following are the average one year survival rates by age.
- Under 50: 57.2%
- 50-64 years old: 51.2%
- 65-74 years old: 40.9%
- Over 75 years old: 28.5%
Gender also seems to be statistically related to prognosis. Men have 37.6% chance of surviving a year, 17.4% of 2 years, 10.4% for 3 years, and only 5.9% chance of living 5 years. Women have 45.4% chance of living a year, 29.3% of 2 yers, 22.2% of 3 years, and 16% chance of living 5 years.
At the same time, 93% of workplace fatalities are men, meaning that there are far more men working in dangerous jobs with a higher likelihood of asbestos exposure. A longer and more direct esposure to asbestos will usualy result in a poorer prognosis later in life when a patient is diagnose with mesothelioma.
The final factor that can influence overall mesothelioma survival rates is the overall health of a patient.
This shouldn’t be understated. A patient who is in good physical condition means they’ll have more strength to endure cancer treatments, the ability to recover faster after surgery, and generally much higher chances of survival.
Even if a patient only starts focusing on their health after being diagnosed, just that health improvement could have an impact on overall diagnosis.