How Common Is Mesothelioma?

Malignant mesothelioma isn’t a common cancer. According to the most recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, doctors diagnosed 14,774 new cases of mesothelioma from 2016 to 2020 in the United States. Overall, mesothelioma rates have declined in recent years. 

The National Cancer Institute’s Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results database shows a steady downward trend in new cases of malignant mesothelioma. The most recent SEER data show fewer than 3,000 new mesothelioma cases per year from 2016 to 2019, the lowest number since 1999.

Mesothelioma Cases By Year
Reported newly diagnosed mesothelioma cases have been trending downward each year.
Key Facts About Mesothelioma Incidence and Trends
  • In the U.S., doctors reported 2,681 new mesothelioma cases in 2020, the latest year for which incidence is available.
  • For every 100,000 people in the U.S., 1 new mesothelioma case was reported in 2020.
  • Since 1999, the highest number of new mesothelioma cases reported in the U.S. occurred in 2011, with 3,373 diagnoses.
  • Experts are assessing the impact of COVID-19 on the number of reported new mesothelioma cases for 2020.

When epidemiologists describe mesothelioma statistics, they often use the incidence rate. This is the number of individuals with a disease out of 100,000 people. In 1999, there were 2,973 new mesothelioma cases diagnosed in the U.S., and the age-adjusted incidence rate was 1.1 per 100,000 people. 

In comparison, 3,026 new mesothelioma cases were diagnosed in 2019. The U.S. population increased 17% from 1999 to 2018, from 279.3 million to 328.3 million. This means the overall incidence rate of mesothelioma dropped to 0.8 per 100,000 people as the population rose. 

Mesothelioma is a very rare cancer. The first oncologist I saw was honest and said he didn’t know anything about peritoneal mesothelioma. After that visit, I was determined to find a mesothelioma specialist.

Mesothelioma Incidence by Gender

Historically, mesothelioma has been primarily diagnosed in men. While men still represent the majority of new cases, women now account for nearly 25% of all cases. 

According to SEER data collected from 1975 to 2019, mesothelioma incidence among men peaked in 1992, reaching 2.6 new cases per 100,000 people. The incidence rate of mesothelioma in women has continually peaked at 0.5 new cases per 100,000 people, most recently in 2017. 

Mesothelioma Incidence Rate By Gender
Although mesothelioma is more common among men, women now make up 25% of all cases.

The age-adjusted rate for men has dropped at a steady rate since 1992, while the incidence rate for women has remained low. However, according to the CDC, the number of mesothelioma deaths among women increased significantly from 1999 to 2020. 

Women at the highest risk of developing mesothelioma from asbestos exposure are registered nurses, homemakers and elementary and middle school teachers. A recent research study found among people older than 44 years, mesothelioma incidence and death rates were higher among men, but among those younger than 45 years, women had higher incidence and death rates. 

Mesothelioma Incidence by Age

CDC data from 2016 to 2020 show that people aged 80-84 have the highest mesothelioma incidence, with 8.0 cases per 100,000 people. Mesothelioma has an extended latency period and can take 20 to 60 years to develop. This is why most patients receive a mesothelioma diagnosis at age 65 or older. 

New Mesothelioma Cases By Age
The highest mesothelioma incidence is among people aged 80-84.

Mesothelioma incidence rates are similar in men and women under the age of 65. As age increases, however, men are 2 to 6 times as likely to develop mesothelioma compared to women. SEER data collected in 2021 show that men and women aged 85 and older have mesothelioma incidence rates of 12.4 and 2.7 per 100,000 people, respectively.

Survivor Story
Survivor Story
Tamron Little Peritoneal mesothelioma

Mesothelioma Survivor Diagnosed at 21

I was just 21 years old. My case was as rare as you can get. The very first time I met Dr. Edward Levine, I knew this was the doctor I had been waiting and praying for. He was very confident and knowledgeable and shared facts my family and I didn’t know about peritoneal mesothelioma. It was the first time since the diagnosis that I felt a calmness in my spirit.

Read Tamron’s Story

Mesothelioma Incidence by Race

Mesothelioma primarily affects non-Hispanic white people. According to CDC data from 2016-2020, 12,359 new mesothelioma cases were diagnosed in white individuals. This is in stark contrast to only 1,184 cases in Hispanic individuals and 749 new cases in non-Hispanic Black individuals.

Mesothelioma Cases By Ethnicity
The mesothelioma incidence rate is highest among non-Hispanic white individuals.

SEER data show a decline in mesothelioma incidence rates for non-Hispanic white individuals, from 1.3 to 0.8 cases per 100,000 people from 2000 to 2021. Incidence rates have remained fairly steady for Hispanic, non-Hispanic Black and non-Hispanic Asian/Pacific Islander populations. 

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Incidence by Mesothelioma Type

According to the most recent CDC data, pleural mesothelioma — the most common type — accounted for 82.1% of all mesothelioma cases from 1999 to 2018. The CDC notes that pleural mesothelioma had an incidence rate of 0.6 cases per 100,000 people in 2018. 

Most mesothelioma cases are linked to asbestos inhalation into the lungs. The asbestos fibers become stuck in the pleura or the thin outer lining surrounding the lungs, leading to inflammation and malignant mesothelioma. 

The second-most common type of mesothelioma, peritoneal mesothelioma, accounted for only 9.9% of cases. The incidence rate of peritoneal mesothelioma is much lower, with only 0.1 cases per 100,000 people in 2018. 

Other types of mesothelioma, including pericardial and testicular mesotheliomas, accounted for less than 1% of cases. It’s not clear how asbestos causes peritoneal, pericardial and testicular types of mesothelioma. 

Mesothelioma Incidence by Location in the U.S.

Researchers have found high rates of mesothelioma in geographical regions and communities with heavy asbestos exposure, including locations with a history of shipbuilding and industry. States with the highest populations also reported the most new mesothelioma cases in 2020. 

California reported 292 new cases, Florida reported 222 and Texas reported 188. States with naturally occurring asbestos deposits, like California and Montana, exhibit high mesothelioma rates as well. For example, CDC data from 2016-2020 show that the mesothelioma incidence rate in Montana is 1.2 per 100,000 people.

Highest Rates Per 100K People
  • Maine: The age-adjusted rate of new mesothelioma cases in 2020 in this state was 1.3 in 100,000 people.
  • Minnesota & Wisconsin: The age-adjusted rate of new mesothelioma cases in 2020 in these states was 1.0 in 100,000 people.
  • Louisiana, New Hampshire & West Virginia: The age-adjusted rate of new mesothelioma cases in 2020 in these states was 0.9 in 100,000 people.

In March 2024, the Biden-Harris administration finalized a ban on chrysotile asbestos in the U.S. Government regulations have severely restricted the toxic mineral’s use since the 1970s. As a result, researchers believe mesothelioma incidence rates may decline further in the future.

People exposed to asbestos decades ago will continue developing this cancer in the coming years, as a result of the disease’s lengthy latency period. Today, U.S. workers involved in the renovation and demolition of structures built before the 1980s are at the highest risk of asbestos exposure. This is why it is key to raise awareness of mesothelioma to help prevent future cases. 

Worldwide Mesothelioma Trends

Recent studies indicate the incidence of mesothelioma is declining globally. In many of the world’s industrialized countries, workplace exposure to asbestos has reached its peak and is declining.

A 2023 study found mesothelioma incidence significantly dropped in countries with a high and high-middle socio-demographic index, which accounts for economic strength, education and fertility rate. Conversely, countries with a lower SDI have experienced an increase in mesothelioma incidence.

Global Mesothelioma Incidence Rates
  • The global incidence rate was 0.30 cases per 100,000 people.
  • The highest incidence rates were in Europe, Australia, New Zealand and Southern Africa.
  • The lowest incidence rates were in the Caribbean, Middle, Eastern and Western Africa and South-Central Asia.

Experts expect mesothelioma incidence to continue dropping in the coming decades. However, individuals working in asbestos-heavy industries may still develop this disease in the next 20 to 60 years. In countries that still use asbestos, mesothelioma rates are likely to rise. 

Asbestos bans in many parts of the world will likely contribute to decreasing mesothelioma incidence over time. However, it may be decades before the positive effects of these bans are evident.

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