Statistics & Facts

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Mesothelioma is a complex cancer distinguished primarily by three factors: rarity, cause and aggressiveness. The disease is one of the least-diagnosed cancers, and it is often misdiagnosed.

The cancer is caused by exposure to asbestos or materials containing asbestos. Although the medical community has a much better understanding of the forms of this cancer and how to treat them, the life expectancy of someone following a diagnosis is only recently starting to be measured by years instead of months.

A wide range of variables determines a patient/s risk for mesothelioma, its rate of progression, the ideal course of treatment and their overall survival rate. Reviewing statistics can help patients and their loved ones better understand these variables and make more educated decisions about treatment.

Key Facts

  • In the U.S., doctors diagnose between 2,000 and 3,000 new cases annually.
  • The three primary types are pleural, peritoneal and pericardial. The disease can also develop in the tunica vaginalis, which lines the testicles.
  • It typically takes 25 to 50 years after an initial exposure to asbestos for symptoms to arise. The decades-long delay is known as the latency period.
  • The incidence is currently falling in the U.S. and rising in Australia, Europe and Japan.
  • The first study to confirm asbestos exposure as the primary cause of this cancer was published in 1964.

Key Mesothelioma Statistics

Percentage of Each Type of Mesothelioma chart

Percentages of each Type

A total of 70 to 90 percent of cases develop in the pleura, a protective lining that surrounds the lungs. About 10 to 30 percent form in the lining of the abdomen (peritoneum). About 1 percent develop in the lining of the heart (pericardium), and less than 1 percent originate in the lining of the testicles.


Only 2 to 10 percent of people with heavy, prolonged exposure to asbestos develop pleural cancer.


Men are 4.6 times more likely to be diagnosed with this cancer than women.


For people older than 60, the risk for developing the disease is 10 times higher than that of people younger than 40.


It is more common in whites and Hispanics than in blacks or Asians.

Cell Types

Three major mesothelioma histological cell types.

Mesothelioma has three major histological cell types: Epithelial, sarcomatoid and biphasic. About 50 to 60 percent of cases are epithelial, 10 to 20 percent are sarcomatoid and 30 to 40 percent are biphasic — a mix of the two. Histological cell type plays an important role in treatment.


A total of 2,574 Americans died of mesothelioma in 2010.

Twenty-seven states had a higher age-adjusted mesothelioma death rate than the national rate of 8.3 deaths per million people from 1999 to 2010.

The four states with the highest age-adjusted death rates, Alaska, Maine, Washington and Wyoming, each had more than 12 deaths per million people.

Age-Adjusted Mesothelioma Death Rate per Million People, 1999-2010

Mesothelioma Death Rate by Gender, United States

Worldwide, approximately 14,200 people are diagnosed with asbestos cancer each year. The disease kills 43,000 people annually.

Eighty-three countries reported more than 92,000 deaths from 1994 to 2008.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) estimates that 11 million people were exposed to asbestos between 1940 and 1978.

Researchers have linked other asbestiform minerals like erionite to cancer. In the Turkish village of Tuzkoy, erionite exposure has caused more than half of the villagers to die of respiratory diseases, including lung cancer and mesothelioma.

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Facts About Surviving the Disease

The main prognostic factors that affect survival are age, sex, tumor subtype and tumor stage. The patient/s ability to perform everyday tasks, known as performance status, also plays an important role.

Only 12 percent of patients with negative prognostic factors survive longer than one year.

Mesothelioma Patient Survival Rate.

About 40 percent of patients survive one year. Approximately 20 percent will survive after two years, 10 percent after three years and 8 percent after five years.

Pleural Survival by Stage

Cancer Stage Median Survival
Stage I 21 months
Stage II 19 months
Stage III 16 months
Stage IV 12 months

Survival data from large, international study of patients treated with surgery.

Facts About Treatment

  • Multimodal Therapy

    The leading therapeutic approach for mesothelioma is called multimodal treatment, involving some combination of surgery, chemotherapy and radiation therapy

    Recent studies show that patients who received multimodal treatment experienced a median survival of 29 months.

  • Chemotherapy

    Patients receiving chemotherapy usually undergo two to three cycles of treatment before doctors perform a re-evaluation. Each cycle typically lasts three weeks.

    Cisplatin and pemetrexed, the two most commonly prescribed chemotherapy drugs for this cancer, are administered for one to two hours every three weeks. The drugs are injected through an IV on day one of each cycle.

    The most studied chemotherapy drug used in mesothelioma treatment is doxorubicin. Research shows it can reduce the size of a tumor in 15 to 20 percent of patients studied.

    Mesothelioma patients receiving chemotherapy face the most common dietary problem for cancer patients: Consuming too little protein and calories. It is important to ask your doctor for dietary guidelines during and after treatment.

  • Surgery

    The most popular surgeries are pleurectomy/decortication (P/D) and extrapleural pneumonectomy (EPP). EPP is a more aggressive procedure, but has a 33 percent rate of cancer recurrence compared with 65 percent with P/D.

  • Radiation Therapy

    Radiation therapy is designed to kill cancerous cells while not harming surrounding healthy cells. Doctors typically administer the radiation in short bursts of one to five minutes, five days a week for several weeks.

Top Five Countries for Clinical Trials

More than 50 percent of patients can expect to be involved in emerging clinical trials.

As of February 2014, there have been more than 215 clinical trials for mesothelioma conducted worldwide.

Top Five Countries for Mesothelioma Clinical Trials

Top Five Countries for Mesothelioma Clinical Trials

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Facts About Symptoms

In 90 percent of mesothelioma cases, shortness of breath (dyspnea) is the first symptom.

According to a survey on quality of life, the most commonly reported symptoms of pleural mesothelioma include shortness of breath and pain (90 percent), tiredness (36 percent), worry (29 percent), cough (22 percent), sweating (22 percent) and constipation (22 percent).

Latency Period

Latency period — the delay between first asbestos exposure and the appearance of symptoms — lasts several decades on average. It varies depending on the duration and intensity of asbestos exposure and other factors like age.

Less than 1 percent of mesothelioma patients have a latency period shorter than 15 years.

The earliest manifestations of asbestos-related disease include pleural effusion and pleural plaques. These conditions are often precursors to pleural mesothelioma, but do not increase the patient/s risk of developing cancer.

Facts About Diagnosis

  • Exposure

    The number of mesothelioma cases is expected to peak worldwide around 2020.

    Because of diagnostic challenges and underreporting, one study suggests that one mesothelioma case is overlooked for every four to five that are reported.

  • Age

    Mesothelioma is most commonly diagnosed in people between the ages of 50 and 70. Although it is rare, young adults and children can develop mesothelioma as well.

  • Staging

    Mesothelioma is diagnosed in stages, ranging from I to IV. Higher stage numbers signify a more advanced case.

    The cancer is most often diagnosed when it is at an advanced stage. Early symptoms are either nonexistent or easily overlooked, so patients may not see a doctor right away.

  • Diagnostic Methods

    Computed tomography (CT scans) and positron emission tomography PET scans) are the preferred imaging scans for diagnosing mesothelioma.

    Biopsy, which involves testing tissue and cell samples in the lab, is the most reliable test for diagnosing mesothelioma.

Compensation For Patients & Families

If you or a loved one has been diagnosed we can help you obtain compensation through grants, trust funds and more.

Facts About Asbestos

World Leaders in Asbestos Use, 1920-1970

World Leaders in Asbestos Use

Eighty-nine countries used a total of 65.4 million tons of asbestos from 1920 to 1970. The global leaders in asbestos use for this period were the U.S., Russia and the U.K., they used 21.8, 8.4 and 4.8 million metric tons, respectively.

  • Exposure

    More than 80 percent of pleural mesothelioma patients report a history of asbestos exposure.

    In the early 1990s, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) failed in an attempt to place a national ban on asbestos use. Although its applications have been severely restricted, asbestos use is still legal in the U.S. and Canada.

    According to the National Institute for Occupational Health and Safety (NIOSH), more than 75 occupations have been known to expose workers to asbestos.

  • Types

    There are six types of asbestos: Chrysotile, amosite, crocidolite, tremolite, anthophyllite and actinolite.

    The most commonly used types were chrysotile, amosite and crocidolite. Chrysotile, also known as white asbestos, accounts for about 95 percent of all asbestos used worldwide.

  • World Trade Center

    Approximately 10 million New Yorkers may have been exposed to asbestos when the Twin Towers collapsed in the 9/11 terrorist attacks.