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Life Expectancy, Survival Rates and Prognosis

There is no cure for mesothelioma. Life expectancy for persons with malignant mesothelioma is difficult to assess because there is great variability in the time before diagnosis and the rate of disease progression. In large retrospective series of pleural mesothelioma patients, the following were found to be important prognostic factors:

Source: National Cancer Institute

Malignant mesothelioma is a 'fatal' cancer primarily associated with exposure to asbestos. The latency period between first exposure to asbestos and clinical disease is usually 20 - 40 years. Although asbestos is no longer mined in the United States, the mineral is still imported, and a substantial amount of asbestos remaining in buildings eventually will be removed, either during remediation or demolition. Currently, an estimated 1.3 million construction and general industry workers potentially are being exposed to asbestos. To characterize mortality attributed to mesothelioma, CDC's National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) analyzed annual multiple-cause-of-death records for 1999 - 2005, the most recent years for which complete data are available. For those years, a total of 18,068 deaths of persons with malignant mesothelioma were reported, increasing from 2,482 deaths in 1999 to 2,704 in 2005, but the annual death rate was stable (14.1 per million in 1999 and 14.0 in 2005). Maintenance, renovation, or demolition activities that might disturb asbestos should be performed with precautions that sufficiently prevent exposures for workers and the public. In addition, physicians should document the occupational history of all suspected and confirmed mesothelioma cases.

Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Number of malignant mesothelioma deaths, United States, 1999 - 2005

* Per 1 million population.

Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

When discussing cancer survival statistics, doctors often use a number called the 5-year survival rate. The 5-year survival rate is the percentage of people who live at least 5 years after their cancer is diagnosed. Of course, some people live longer than 5 years. Relative 5-year survival takes the proportion of people with cancer that have survived 5 years and compares it to the survival expected in a similar group of people without the cancer. This helps adjust for deaths from causes other than the cancer. Based on data from the National Cancer Institute’s SEER program, the relative 5-year survival rate for mesothelioma is between 5% and 10%. People diagnosed at a younger age tend to survive longer.

The numbers below are from a large international study that looked at the median survival time of patients with pleural mesothelioma who were treated with surgery between 1995 and 2009. Median survival is the length of time it took for half the people in a certain group (like those with a certain type and stage of cancer
) to die. It is kind of like an average – half the patients in the group live longer than that and half the patients don't.

Stage - Median Survival

As a general rule, survival times are likely to be longer for people with mesotheliomas that can be operated on than for those with cancers that have spread too far to be removed. Other prognostic factors, such as those listed in the section "How is malignant mesothelioma staged?" can also affect survival.

Although stage is an important factor in predicting a person's prognosis, other factors also play a a significant role in survival times such as:

Source: The American Cancer Society

Also see: Mesothelioma Mortality Rates by CDC (PDF)

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