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Mesothelioma Life Expectancy

Mesothelioma is a type of cancer that develops when the cells in the mesothelium, which are a layer of tissue that lines the chest and abdomen, turn into cancer cells. The cancer usually starts in the pleura, a thin lining covering the lungs, and later spreads to other organs.

It is associated with asbestos exposure. The higher the exposure, the more likely a person is to develop mesothelioma. Asbestos fibers enter the lungs and cause mesothelium tissues to inflame and become scarred. Mesothelioma cells form in the scar tissue.

Life expectancy is based on statistics of survival rates of large numbers of people previously diagnosed with mesothelioma, so it’s important to remember that your circumstances may give you a better prognosis than estimated below.

You should speak to your healthcare providers to get a better idea of your own prognosis and to find out how these numbers may apply to you.

Life Expectancy by Stage

The first symptoms of mesothelioma usually show around 20-60 years after a person has been exposed to asbestos. The symptoms are generally non-specific, meaning you may not realize you have a serious issue until later. That’s why it’s so important to have regular check-ups and advise your doctor if you’ve previously been exposed to asbestos.

According to the United Kingdom’s Cancer Research UK, a person’s likelihood of living at least one year after their diagnosis depends on which stage they have been diagnosed with.

Stage 1

Around 60 out of 100 people (around 60%) will live for one year or more after they are diagnosed with Stage 1 mesothelioma.

Stage 2

Nearly 60 out of 100 people (almost 60%) will live for one year or longer after they have been diagnosed with Stage 2 mesothelioma.

Stage 3

Around 50 out of 100 people (around 50%) will live for one year or more after being diagnosed with Stage 3 mesothelioma.

Stage 4 

Approximately 30 out of 100 people (30%) will live for one year or longer after they are diagnosed with Stage 4 mesothelioma.

Survival Rate by SEER Stage

Today, the American Cancer Society (ACS) relies on information from the Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results (SEER) database (maintained by the National Cancer Institute (NCI)) and other sources to provide survival statistics for different cancers. The ACS tries to remain as accurate as possible by re-examining data on a regular basis to ensure that the most up-to-date information is used.

Rather than using the TNM stages (stages 1, 2, 3, or 4) the SEER database groups them into localized, regional and distant stages.

  • Localized: The mesothelioma cells are limited to the pleura.
  • Regional: The mesothelioma cells have spread to nearby structures or to nearby lymph nodes.
  • Distant: The mesothelioma cells have spread to distant parts of the body, such as the liver, bones, or the pleura on the other side of a person’s body.
SEER Stage 5-Year Relative Survival Rate
Localized 20%
Regional 16%
Distant 8%
All SEER stages combined 12%

How is Life Expectancy Determined

It is important to note that survival rates are based on figures from the past. The numbers upon which the American Cancer Society base their estimates are based on people who were diagnosed and treated at least five years earlier. These numbers are based on people diagnosed with mesothelioma from 2011 to 2017.

With every passing year, experts know more about mesothelioma, and treatment options advance. This means that a person diagnosed with mesothelioma today may have a better prognosis than those diagnosed five years ago.

There has been a significant improvement in mesothelioma survival rates for the past 10 years or so. The current survival rate is higher than it was 10 years ago and much higher than it was 20-30 years ago. As mesothelioma is better understood, diagnosis and treatment are becoming much more widespread and effective.

When to Visit a Doctor

If you’ve been exposed to asbestos in the past, it’s crucial to go to the doctor as soon as you have any of the following symptoms.

  • chest pain
  • coughing
  • decreased appetite
  • difficulty swallowing
  • fatigue
  • fluid buildup (effusion) in the lung, abdomen or around the heart
  • hoarseness
  • lumps under the skin on the chest
  • pain in the side of the chest or lower back
  • shortness of breath
  • swelling of the face and arms
  • unexplained weight loss

Frequently Asked Questions

Read on to find out the answers to some commonly asked questions regarding the life expectancy of a person with mesothelioma.

Is mesothelioma always fatal?

The answer to this question is, unfortunately, yes.  Mesothelioma is considered to be a fatal disease. The prognosis and treatment, however, depend on many factors. Some people with mesothelioma will die within a few months or years, while others live for over a decade with the disease. A person’s age, general health before diagnosis, the stage of the cancer, and how well their cancer responds to treatment all affect survival rates.

Can you file a lawsuit for mesothelioma?

Yes, you can file a lawsuit against the company that exposed you to asbestos. The company may be liable for your injuries if they knew about the dangers of exposure and did not warn you about it.

How long do you live after being diagnosed with mesothelioma?

The average life expectancy after being diagnosed with mesothelioma is about one year. However, some patients live up to five years after diagnosis. Mesothelioma patients have a low chance of surviving more than 10 years after diagnosis because their disease progresses quickly and they need aggressive treatment.

Where to Go From Here

Mesothelioma is a rare cancer that develops from the lining of your lungs, abdomen, or heart. It’s most common in people who worked in the construction industry before 1980 and those who live near asbestos mines. If you have symptoms of mesothelioma, such as shortness of breath or chest pain, you should see your doctor immediately. The earlier your diagnosis, the greater the chance for a longer life expectancy, and more time to get your affairs in order.