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Mesothelioma Survival Rate

One of the most important pieces of information that any newly diagnosed mesothelioma patient wants is the survival rate. A survival rate is based on the percentage of patients who live for specified periods of time following a diagnosis. Using this, doctors come up with a patient’s prognosis, or chance of recovery.

To establish survival rates, doctors look at large pools of patients and identify the median amount of time that most patients live. The rates are an estimate based on research gathered from scores of patients. Generally, the survival rate for asbestos cancer is low, but these statistics say nothing about individual circumstances. Many patients beat the odds and live well beyond the expected survival rates.

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How Are Survival Rates Determined?

Survival rates are based on several criteria:

  • Type - The three main types of mesothelioma are pleural, peritoneal and pericardial. Pleural is the most common form of this cancer. Up to 80 percent of diagnosed patients have the pleural variety. That means there is more research and funding that goes into pleural asbestos cancer.
  • Stage - Like other forms of cancer, there are four primary stages for the disease. Stages I and II are known to be less invasive and easier to treat. Stages III and IV are more invasive and difficult to treat. In many cases, asbestos-cancer patients are not diagnosed until the later stages because the disease can grow undetected in the body for decades. One recent study that looked at 131 patients with pleural mesothelioma found that 90 percent with stage I were alive within 12 months of a diagnosis. At the same time, about one-third of the stage IV patients survived as long.
  • Tumor Cell Type - The histology, or types of cells, involved in a diagnosis is vital to the overall outcome of the disease. There three main types of cells are epithelial, sarcomatoid and biphasic. Of those, epithelial cells are the most uniform and the easiest to treat. Both sarcomatoid and biphasic cells are more erratic, making them difficult to treat.
  • Patient Gender - Asbestos cancer is known to mostly affect men because most asbestos exposure is occupational. Typically, the jobs where asbestos exposure is prevalent are male-dominated fields, including construction work, mining and industrial work. While there are women who are diagnosed with the disease, they tend to fare better then their male counterparts. Researchers are still trying to understand why women have higher survival rates than men.
  • Patient's Race - When it comes to any type of cancer, whites are more likely to be diagnosed than blacks or Hispanics. In the case of asbestos cancers, up to 95 percent of diagnosed patients are white.
  • Patient's Region - States and regions that have a higher population of industrialized areas, especially those with naturally occurring asbestos deposits, have a higher occurrence of asbestos cancer. Overall, Maine has the highest mesothelioma deaths, followed by Wyoming, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Washington.

What are Survival Rates Used For?

While some patients use survival rates only as a way to measure their overall prognosis, doctors use them for several other clinical reasons as well:

  • Determine individual treatment plans - Doctors utilize all the individual factors, including type of cancer, stage and tumor cell type, to establish an effective treatment plan. Doctors often look at the patient’s disease and the overall survival rate to design a treatment plan.
  • Determine the effectiveness of a particular treatment - In looking at new or existing treatments, researchers use survival rates to conclude if the treatment is working.
  • Determine the number of cancer-free patients after five years - Doctors use the five-year survival rate as a benchmark because cancer has the greatest chance of recurrence in the first five years. A five-year survival rate includes the number of patients who are living five years after a cancer diagnosis.


Mayo Clinic. Cancer Survival Rate: What it means for your Prognosis. Retrieved from http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/cancer/CA00049

National Cancer Institute. SEER Survival Monograph: Cancer Survival Among Adults: US SEER Program, 1988-2001, Patient and Tumor Characteristics. Retrieved from http://seer.cancer.gov/archive/publications/survival/