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Statistics and outlook for mesothelioma

Men and women discussing mesothelioma

This page is about statistics and what they can tell us about the outlook for people with mesothelioma. There are sections about


A quick guide to what's on this page

Statistics and outlook for mesothelioma

Outlook means your chances of getting better. Your doctor may call this your prognosis. Below we have quite detailed information about the likely outcome of mesothelioma. The statistics we use are taken from a variety of sources, including the opinions and experience of the experts who check every section of our website. They are intended as a general guide only. For a more complete picture in your case, you’d have to speak to your own specialist.

We include statistics because people ask for them, but not everyone wishes to read this type of information. Remember you can skip this page if you don't want to read it, you can always come back to it.

How reliable are cancer statistics?

No statistics can tell you what will happen to you. Your cancer is unique. The same type of cancer can grow at different rates in different people. The statistics cannot tell you about the different treatments people may have had, or how that treatment may have affected their prognosis. There are many individual factors that will affect your treatment and your outlook.


CR PDF Icon You can view and print the quick guides for all the pages in the Treating mesothelioma section.



What you need to know about the information on this page

Following on this page, is quite detailed information about the survival rates for different stages of mesothelioma. We have included it because many people have asked us for this. But not everyone who is diagnosed with a cancer wants to read this type of information. If you are not sure whether you want to know at the moment or not, then perhaps you might like to skip this page for now. You can always come back to it.

Please note that there are no national statistics available for different stages of cancer or treatments that people may have had. The statistics we present here are pulled together from a variety of different sources, including the opinions and experience of the experts that check each section of our website. We provide statistics because people ask us for them. But they are only intended as a general guide and cannot be regarded as any more than that.


Cancer statistics in general

Doctors collect statistical information about different types of cancer and prognosis. Prognosis is the likely outcome of your disease and treatment. In other words, your chances of getting better and how long you are likely to live.

Remember that statistics are averages based on large numbers of patients. They cannot predict exactly what will happen to you. No patients are exactly alike and the response to treatment also varies from one person to another.

We have information that explains more about the different types of cancer statistics in the section on cancer statistics. Unless you are very familiar with medical statistics, you may find it helpful to read this before you read the information below.

You should feel free to ask your doctor about your prognosis, but not even your doctor can tell you for sure what will happen. Your doctor may use the term '1, 2, or 5 year survival'. This relates to the number of people in research who were still alive 1, 2, or 5 years after diagnosis. This is because doctors follow what happens to people for several years after treatment in any research study.


The general outlook for mesothelioma

Generally speaking, with cancer the outcome depends on how advanced your cancer is when it is diagnosed and the statistics are given for each stage. Finding statistics by stage is difficult for mesothelioma because

  • Mesothelioma is not very common, (although rates are increasing)
  • It is usually diagnosed when it is advanced - people may not have symptoms early on and so don't go to their doctor
  • Statistics by stage aren't readily available because most people don't have surgery and accurate staging needs an operation

There are 2 types of mesothelioma. Pleural mesothelioma has 2 different staging systems and peritoneal mesothelioma has no established staging system.

Overall, both types of mesothelioma have a poor outlook. By the time someone has symptoms and goes to their doctor, the disease is very often advanced. Because few people are diagnosed early, there are no reliable statistics for 5 year survival rates for the early stages of mesothelioma.

For both types of mesothelioma, patients are often told that they may have about a year to live. But mesothelioma specialists, working in leading cancer centres throughout the world, often report better statistics than this based on clinical trials that they are carrying out. People who can have the mesothelioma surgically removed tend to do better than people who can't have surgery. Some studies seem to show that having radiotherapy, chemotherapy or biological therapies after surgery may increase survival by a few months for some people. But research is continuing to try to improve survival for mesothelioma.

Generally, of all the people diagnosed with mesothelioma, about 4 out of 10 (40%) will be alive 1 year later. About 2 out of 10 people (20%) will be alive 2 years later. Only about 1 in 10 (10%) will be alive 3 years later and about 8 out of 100 (8%) will be alive 5 years later. For people who have been diagnosed and treated in the earlier stages of the disease, there is very little information to draw on but some reports quote survival rates of up to 1 in 2 (50%) after 2 years. So the range of survival times is very wide. It is important to remember that survival depends on other factors as well as stage.


Factors affecting outlook

Apart from the stage of your cancer, other factors can affect your prognosis. One factor is the type of mesothelioma. People with the epithelial type tend to do better than people with mixed type. The sarcomatous and desmoplastic types can be more difficult to treat and tend to have poorer survival than the other types.

Another factor is how well you are overall. Doctors have a way of measuring this. They call it your 'performance status' or PS. A score of 0 means you are fully active and more or less as you were before your illness. A score of 1 means you cannot carry out heavy physical work, but can do everything else. The scores continue to go up, depending on how much help you need. This is relevant to survival because overall, the fitter people are, the better able they are to withstand their cancer and treatment. You can read more about performance status in the question and answer section.

People with normal haemoglobin levels, and normal white blood cell and platelet counts, tend to do better. These tests are a measure of your overall health and the effect the mesothelioma is having on you.


How do these statistics apply to you

No statistics can tell you exactly what will happen to you. Your cancer is unique. The same type of cancer can grow at different rates in different people for example.

Statistics are not detailed enough to tell you about the different treatments people may have had. And how that treatment may have affected their prognosis. Chemotherapy, surgery and radiotherapy may help people to live longer as well as relieving symptoms. There are many individual factors that will determine your treatment and prognosis. If you are fit enough to have treatment, you are likely to do better than average, particularly if your cancer is more advanced.

It is important to remember that these statistics are collected from patients treated at least several years ago. Improvements in treatment since then mean that the survival statistics for people now being diagnosed with mesothelioma may be higher.


Clinical trials

Research evidence shows that taking part in clinical trials may improve outlook. No one is completely sure why this is. It is probably partly to do with your doctors and nurses monitoring you more closely if you are in a trial. For example, you may have more scans and blood tests. There is more information in the trials and research section. To search our clinical trials database for mesothelioma trials, pick 'mesothelioma' from the dropdown menu of cancer types.

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Updated: 17 December 2013