The prognosis for patients with malignant mesothelioma is hard to pinpoint, as many variables go into a determination and each patient is different. Patients diagnosed with malignant mesothelioma typically live four to 18 months following diagnosis. There have been patients who have lived longer than 10 years, but the average five-year survival rate across all patients is 10 percent. 

Mesothelioma is a rare disease that is primarily caused by exposure to asbestos. The most prevalent subtype — pleural mesothelioma — accounts for 80% of all diagnosed cases in the United States. Researchers have found that some of the factors that contribute to improved survival rates include being female, under age 45 and an epithelioid histological subtype.

Since treatments for mesothelioma can vary based on the location, stage and histology of the disease, doctors review all the contributing factors to find the best treatment. There are some actions patients can take to improve their prognosis. In addition to prognosis, doctors use other terminology in relation to the disease outcome:

Mesothelioma Survival rate

A survival rate is based on the percent of people with a similar diagnosis who are alive after a set period of time (usually five years). Survival rates are estimates based on historical information and do not provide information specific to individuals. The American Cancer Society said the average survival rates by months are as follows:

  • Stage I – 21 months
  • Stage II — 19 months
  • Stage III — 16 months
  • Stage IV — 12 months

Research shows that other characteristics regarding mesothelioma cancer patients and survival rates include:

  • Caucasian women age 65 and younger live longer with the disease when compared to similarly aged men.
  • Women overall outlive men five years past diagnosis (15.4% women vs. 6.5% men).
  • Military veterans account for up to 30% of all mesothelioma cases.
  • Patients who receive care from a mesothelioma specialist have better access to advanced treatments that can increase survival rates.

In general, cancer survival rate information comes from the National Cancer Institute’s Surveillance, Epidemiology and End Results (SEER) database, which collects information from regional cancer registries.

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5-Year Relative Survival Rate

The American Cancer Society defines the 5 year relative survival rate as a comparison of patients with the same type and stage of malignant pleural mesothelioma to people in the overall population. This means that if a five year survival rate for a specific stage of mesothelioma is 20%, people with that cancer have a 20% likelyhood of living at least five years after diagnosis compared with people who don’t have that cancer.

The most recent data from the SEER database shows 43.8% of all asbestos cancer patients survive for a year after a diagnosis. According to the American Cancer Society, the five-year survival rate for anyone diagnosed with Stage I mesothelioma is 18%. Stage II and early Stage III and late Stage III and Stage IV are 11% and 7% respectively.

Understanding a Prognosis

When a physician provides a prognosis, the goal is to give the patient an estimate of the chances of recovery based on medical and historical evidence from the general population. Several factors affect a prognosis, including:

  • General health – People who are healthy can withstand the rigors of treatment.
  • Age – Younger patients are better able to tolerate treatments. However, most patients are diagnosed in their 60s or 70s due to the long disease latency.
  • Cell type – Each of the three main cell types —epithelioid, sarcomatoid and biphasic — can impact how the disease is treated. Epithelial mesothelioma has the best survival rate.
  • Disease type – Of the three main types of mesothelioma —pleural, peritoneal and pericardial — pleural mesothelioma is the most common.
  • Disease stage – Like other cancers, mesothelioma is classified by stage, with Stage 1 being the most treatable and Stage 4 having the fewest treatment options.
  • Sex – Men make up more than 80% of all pleural mesothelioma cases.
  • Work history – Those diagnosed with mesothelioma have usually been exposed to asbestos on the job or during military service.
  • Treatments – Patients who are eligible for aggressive treatments that include surgery typically fare better than those who are not eligible.

Diagnostic Testing

Diagnostic testing, also called medical testing, is used to verify or rule out the presence of disease. Once a diagnosis is confirmed, physicians use additional testing to determine specific information about the disease, including cell type, disease stage and location.

Many people who have mesothelioma are initially diagnosed with other types of cancers or diseases. A wrong diagnosis can waste precious time for medical management of the disease. A correct diagnosis is vital for the best treatment and access to trust fund compensation that helps pay for treatments.

Mesothelioma specialists use physical exams and blood tests to initially confirm a diagnosis. From there, they use a variety of procedures for additional information. Patients who suspect they might be misdiagnosed are urged to contact a mesothelioma cancer specialist for an accurate diagnosis.

Steps to Getting a Diagnosis

The process of getting a diagnosis can be challenging, depending on the situation. Patients who seek immediate attention from an asbestos cancer specialist have an easier time getting an accurate diagnosis quickly. The steps to a diagnosis are as follows:

  1. Since the onset of mesothelioma symptoms are similar to a cold or the flu, patients usually put off seeking medical attention. When they finally do see a doctor, the first step is their primary care physician, urgent care or hospital emergency room. With little information about the patient’s work history or asbestos exposure, general doctors listen to the patient’s lungs and typically diagnose a common illness. Patients are given a prescription for antibiotics and sent home to rest.
  2. After several weeks of a persistent cough, feeling rundown and losing weight, patients usually return to their physician. Patients may be asked to undergo a chest X-ray or blood work for a closer look at the causes of disease. If cancer is suspected, the patient will be immediately referred to an oncologist.
  3. After a complete physical and diagnostic testing, patients who are diagnosed with cancer are fast-tracked to treatment. Most oncologists misdiagnose mesothelioma as lung cancer and provide inadequate care. Patients who suspect they have been exposed to asbestos at any point in their lives should seek immediate assistance from a mesothelioma cancer specialist. When asbestos diseases are suspected, always consult a second-opinion doctor.

Improving Mesothelioma Survival Rates

While the outlook for malignant mesothelioma may seem daunting, there are still ways to fight back against the disease:

Early detection
Seeking care and treatment as early as possible is important. Early detection dramatically increases a patient’s outcome because the earlier the disease is caught, the longer the life expectancy. New tools, including the Mesomark assay, measure the number of mesothelioma cells in the bloodstream, possibly detecting the presence of disease long before symptoms begin.

Physical activity and good nutritional habits
Physical activity and diet alone will not cure mesothelioma. However, patients who receive proper nutrition and begin physical activity following (or during) treatment may undergo fewer complications. Ask your doctor about referrals for exercise and rehabilitation to stay strong during treatment.

Aggressive treatment
Treatments that kill cancer cells, including chemotherapy, radiation and surgery, work to eliminate the disease. This multimodal approach is considered the gold standard in mesothelioma treatment. It is also worth enrolling in any clinical trials available.

Specialized medical care
Mesothelioma specialists help patients improve their prognosis by utilizing the most advanced treatments and technologies to fight the disease. The average cancer doctor (oncologist) does not have experience with mesothelioma and will only offer standard cancer treatments. Because mesothelioma is so rare, only mesothelioma specialists know the best tools to fight the disease. In coordination with a specialist, look into alternative therapies that may work well with conventional cancer treatment plans.

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Written by Richard Stewart

Writer, Content Coordinator and Outreach Director

Richard Stewart is a writer, content coordinator and outreach director with over 12 years of experience covering asbestos exposure, mesothelioma, and treatment options. He is passionate about spreading awareness for asbestos and mesothelioma and helping victims find the information and resources they need online.

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