Statistics & Facts

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

The cancer is caused by exposure to asbestos or asbestos-containing materials. And 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 his or her overall survival. Reviewing statistics can help patients and their loved ones better understand these variables and make more educated decisions about treatment.

Key Facts

  • In the United States, doctors diagnose between 2,000 and 3,000 new cases of mesothelioma each year.
  • 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. This decades-long delay is known as the latency period.
  • The incidence of mesothelioma is currently falling in the United States and rising in Australia, Europe and Japan. The incidence has peaked in the United States, but not worldwide.
  • The first study to confirm asbestos exposure as the primary cause of this cancer was published in 1964.

Key Statistics

  • Only 2 to 10 percent of people with heavy, prolonged exposure to asbestos develop pleural cancer.
  • For people older than 60, the risk for developing mesothelioma is 10 times higher than that of people younger than 40.
  • Men are 4.6 times more likely to be diagnosed with this cancer than women.
  • It is more common in whites and Hispanics than in African-Americans or Asian-Americans.
  • Pleura
    Tunica Vaginalis
  • 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 of mesotheliomas develop in the lining of the heart (pericardium), and less than 1 percent originate in the lining of the testicles (tunica vaginalis).
  • Three major mesothelioma histological cell types.
  • Mesothelioma has three major histological cell types: epithelial, sarcomatoid and biphasic. 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.
  • In 2010, 2,574 Americans died of mesothelioma.
  • From 1999 to 2010, 27 states had a higher age-adjusted mesothelioma death rate than the national rate of 8.3 deaths per million people.
  • 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.
  • From 1994 to 2008, 83 countries reported more than 92,000 deaths.
  • 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.

Facts about Surviving the Disease

  • Survival depends on the stage of the cancer and other factors.
  • The estimated median survival for pleural patients ranges from 4 to 12 months.
  • 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.

  • 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.

Facts about Treatment

Top Five Countries for Mesothelioma Clinical Trials

Top Five Countries for Mesothelioma Clinical Trials
  • The leading therapeutic approach for mesothelioma is called multimodality treatment, which involves some combination of surgery, chemotherapy and radiation therapy
  • Recent studies show that patients who received multimodality treatment experienced a median survival of 29 months.
  • 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.
  • Patients receiving chemotherapy usually undergo two to three cycles of treatment before doctors perform a reevaluation. 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, both liquids, 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.
  • 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.
  • More than 50 percent of patients can expect to be involved with emerging clinical trials.
  • As of February 2014, there have been more than 215 clinical trials for mesothelioma conducted worldwide. Click here to learn more about the latest clinical trials for mesothelioma.

Facts about Mesothelioma Symptoms

  • In 90 percent of mesothelioma cases, shortness of breath (dyspnea) is the first symptom.
  • 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).
  • Mesothelioma’s 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 Mesothelioma Diagnosis

  • The number of mesothelioma cases is expected to peak worldwide around 2020.
  • 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.
  • Mesothelioma is diagnosed in stages, ranging from I to IV. Higher stage numbers signify a more advanced case.
  • Mesothelioma 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.
  • Because of diagnostic challenges and underreporting, one study suggests that one mesothelioma case is overlooked for every four to five that are reported.
  • 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.

Facts about Asbestos

  • More than 80 percent of pleural mesothelioma patients report a history of asbestos exposure.
  • 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.
  • In the early 1990s, the United States 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 United States and Canada.
  • Approximately 10 million New Yorkers may have been exposed to asbestos during the collapse of the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001.
  • According to the National Institute for Occupational Health and Safety (NIOSH), more than 75 occupations have been known to expose workers to asbestos.
  • World Leaders in Asbestos Use, 1920-1970

    World Leaders in Asbestos Use
  • From 1920 to 1970, 89 countries used a total of 65.4 million tons of asbestos. The global leaders in asbestos use for this period, the United States, Russia and the United Kingdom, used 21.8, 8.4 and 4.8 million metric tons, respectively.