Mesothelioma is a very aggressive cancer with no known cure. It is caused by asbestos exposure, and usually takes anywhere from 20 to 50 years to set in. Very few patients survive past the first five years after diagnosis. That is not to say, however, that the disease can not be treated. Depending on the patient, treatments involving surgery, radiation therapy, and chemotherapy might all extend the life of a mesothelioma patient while improving the quality of their lives.
The average life expectancy of mesothelioma depends on a variety of factors. Since it is a relatively rare form of cancer, it is difficult to get solid, narrow ranges of averages on life expectancy. Also, it is important to note that while these numbers do reflect the average life expectancy of a patient after diagnosis of mesothelioma, they do not take into account how sick the patient is. If the disease is diagnosed in its earliest stages, you can expect a relatively good prognosis because it will take time for the disease to progress, and because cancer treatments are most effective in early stages.
Early treatments mean less cancer to deal with - cancerous cells have had less time to divide, meaning smaller tumors, less spread to lymph nodes, and lower chances of metastasis (spreading to distant regions of the body). Also, if a cancer is in its earliest stages, a patient is likely to be in much better health, meaning they can better withstand the rigors of chemotherapy and radiation therapy than sick patients. Their better health will help them recover quicker and allow for more aggressive treatments. For the same reasons, younger patients tend to have longer life expectancies than older ones - they are more resilient and heal faster.
Unfortunately, since mesothelioma often takes decades to progress after the initial asbestos exposure, it is a very difficult cancer to diagnose and treat. Once symptoms are first felt or observed, it is often too late to treat the patient effectively.
The life expectancy of mesothelioma patients also depends on what type of mesothelioma they have. Since pleural mesothelioma - mesothelioma that affects the lining of the body cavity found between the lungs and the ribcage – is the most common, it is the most studied, and more treatments are available for it. Furthermore, the type of cells found in the cancer can have an affect on life expectancy. If the cells have a uniform, cube-like shape, they are considered epithelioid mesothelioma cells. Oval, irregularly shaped cells are called sarcomatoid cells. Biphasic cells are those that are difficult to describe, and lie somewhere between the other two types.
Patients with epithelioid mesothelioma, who account for around 50 to 70 percent of people with the disease, have been found to have an average survival time of 8.5 months. Patients with sarcomatoid mesothelioma, who account for approximately 10 to 20 percent of malignant mesothelioma cases, have been found to have an average survival time of about seven months. Patients with biphasic mesothelioma, who account for between 20 and 40 percent of cases, have the worst prognosis, with an average survival time of about six months.