Death rate and mortality rate may sound different, but they actually refer to the same thing: The number of deaths in general, or from a precise cause, in a specific group of people.
Nearly 3,000 people are diagnosed with mesothelioma each year in the United States. That represents 0.02 percent of all U.S. cancer cases. A 2017 report from the CDC shows the death rate in the United States from 1999 to 2015 was around 8 deaths per million people.
For comparison, the country with the highest age-adjusted death rate from 1994 to 2008 was the United Kingdom with 17.8 deaths per million.
Mesothelioma Death Rate by Gender
For a variety of reasons, disease specialists did not track the death rates from asbestos cancers over a long period of time. It wasn’t until 1999 that the U.S. government began classifying the diseases as a cause of death. This was mostly because doctors rarely discovered them until a post-mortem examination. This was also because pleural mesothelioma is so rare it often was mistaken for lung cancer or another respiratory disease.
The most up-to-date information on asbestos-related death rates comes from CDC WONDER, an online database offered by the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The database specifies the number of people who died from the disease over an 11-year period from 1999 to 2010.
Age-adjusted Death Rates
Because the latency period between the first exposure to asbestos and the diagnosis of a related cancer is usually between 25 and 50 years, the death rates that follow include only people aged 25 years and older. Death rates are age-adjusted according to the 2000 U.S. standard population.
Mesothelioma Death Rates in U.S., (1990-2010)
- In 1999, the adjusted rate was 13.2 deaths per million. The death rate dropped to 12.3 deaths per million by the end of 2010, a decline of nearly 7 percent.
- During the 11-year period, 27 states surpassed the national average. The five states with the highest rates of asbestos cancer deaths are:
State Mesothelioma Death Rate (1999-2010)
- Maine – 22.5 deaths per million
- Alaska – 21.1 deaths per million
- Washington – 20.3 deaths per million
- Wyoming – 18.6 deaths per million
- New Jersey – 17.8 deaths per million
Death Rate by Age, Gender and Race
Asbestos cancer death rates vary greatly by age group. When sorted by 10-year age groups, the crude (not age-adjusted) death rate was highest among 75-84-year-olds at 72.4 deaths per million. The death rates for the 25-34-year-old group and the 35-44-year-old group were both fewer than one death per million.
- The mesothelioma death rate is much higher among men. From 1999 to 2010, the age-adjusted death rate for men was 24.6 deaths per million, compared with 4.5 deaths per million for women.
- The rate among men fell from 25.5 deaths per million in 1999 to 23 deaths per million in 2010. For women, the death rate fluctuated from 1999-2010, but remained close to this period’s average rate of 4.5 deaths per million.
- The rate for whites is more than double that of any other race. From 1999 to 2010, the age-adjusted death rate among whites was 13.9 deaths per million. The second highest rate was observed in American Indians or Alaska Natives (5.6 deaths per million), followed by Blacks or African Americans (5.4 deaths per million) and Asians or Pacific Islanders (3.3 deaths per million).
- The mesothelioma death rate varies depending on the location of the primary tumor because of the different incidence rates of the two main types of mesothelioma. Pleural mesothelioma originates in the lining of the lungs and accounts for about 80 percent of all mesothelioma cases. Peritoneal mesothelioma forms in the lining of the abdomen and makes up about 20 percent of cases.
- More people die of pleural mesothelioma because of its higher incidence, which gives the pleural type a higher mortality rate per million. However, the CDC does not calculate average mortality rates by type. We don’t know the true death rate for each type of mesothelioma because the CDC rarely records the specific type on death certificates.
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Mesothelioma Deaths by State, 1999-2010
- From 1999 to 2010, 29,639 people in the United States died of mesothelioma. The number of deaths rose from 2,342 in 1999 to 2,573 in 2010, an increase of 231 deaths.
- In the majority of cases, death records do not indicate the exact type or subtype of cancer. From 1999 to 2010, there were 2,175 deaths attributed to pleural mesothelioma, 1,071 attributed to peritoneal mesothelioma and 31 attributed to pericardial mesothelioma. There were 3,724 deaths from mesothelioma of other sites.
- In all, that is 9,001 deaths by all types. By contrast, 22,638 cases had an unspecified site of origin.
- Although the United States no longer mines asbestos, a wide variety of industries and occupations used the toxic mineral throughout the 20th century. Asbestos use in the United States peaked at 803,000 metric tons in 1973 and then declined to approximately 1,700 metric tons in 2007.
- The prevalence of asbestos use during the 20th century now poses serious risks, including death, for 1.3 million U.S. construction and general industry workers. The five most at-risk industries are ship and boat building and repairing, industrial and miscellaneous chemicals, petroleum refining, electric light and power and construction. Occupations such as plumbers, pipefitters and boiler makers, mechanical engineers, electricians and elementary school teachers are also at high risk.
- Research shows that the incidence of asbestos cancer in the United States likely peaked in 2010. People exposed to asbestos in the 1970s, when the U.S. government first began restricting asbestos use, continue to develop mesothelioma because of the disease’s decades-long latency period.
Mortality by Age, Gender and Race
- The majority of people who died of asbestos-related cancer from 1999 to 2010 were between the ages of 75 and 84 (11,170 deaths), followed by ages 65 to 74 (8,637 deaths). There were only 91 mesothelioma deaths among 25-34-year-olds.
- Men are diagnosed far more often than women. From 1999 to 2010, 23,784 men accounted for 80.2 percent of related deaths in the United States.
- By race, whites comprised nearly 95 percent of deaths from asbestos cancers in the 11-year period, with 28,639 deaths. Blacks and African Americans, the next largest racial group for mesothelioma deaths, comprised nearly 3.9 percent of all deaths with 1,149.
- Asbestos cancer cases among males peaked from 2008 to 2010, with more than 2,000 cases reported per year. The CDC predicts the number of cases should be on the decline, with an expected return to background levels by 2055. Mesothelioma cases among women are expected to increase slightly.
Research and extensive studies are conducted daily to improve treatments for mesothelioma patients and search for a cure for the cancer. Through medical advances and developments in clinical trials, more options will continue to be available to combat mesothelioma and improve the mesothelioma death rate in the United States.
Number of U.S. Malignant Mesothelioma Deaths 2004 – 2010
|Black/ African American||89||103||121||92||98||79||106||688|
|Asian/ Pacific Islander||18||23||13||28||29||30||24||165|
Is There a Mesothelioma Cure?
As long-term survivorship is extraordinarily rare in patients afflicted with this malignancy, it is currently thought that no bona fide cure for mesothelioma has been discovered as of yet. Nonetheless, advancements in treatment are helping people to live longer with this cancer.
Current therapies and clinical trials are helping many people with early stage mesothelioma change their prognosis and live at least three to five years or sometimes even longer. Some late-stage mesothelioma patients who participate in clinical trials are living around three years with innovative therapies like immunotherapy. People in otherwise good health with up to stage III mesothelioma may qualify for multimodal therapy that pairs aggressive surgery with chemotherapy and radiation therapy. This combined approach attacks the cancer multiple ways to improve treatment results. Many people who receive multimodal therapy for mesothelioma live longer than the average one-year survival rate.
6 Cited Article Sources
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NIOSH. (March 2012). Malignant Mesothelioma: Mortality; Years of potential life lost.
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NIOSH. (March 2009). Malignant Mesothelioma: Mortality; Numbers of deaths.
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Centers for Disease Control (2005, April 24). Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. 58(15); 393-396.
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Last Modified May 2, 2019