Written By: Karen Selby, RN,
Last modified: August 25, 2021

Key Facts About Mesothelioma

Knowing key mesothelioma statistics can help you better understand this rare disease, make more educated decisions about your health and help spread awareness.

  • Mesothelioma is caused by exposure to asbestos.
  • It accounts for less than 0.3% of all cancer diagnoses in the country.
  • There are four types of mesothelioma: Pleural, peritoneal, pericardial and testicular. Pleural is the most common type, representing about 75% of all mesothelioma cases.
  • Out of all people with heavy, prolonged exposure to asbestos, 2% to 10% develop pleural mesothelioma.
  • Symptoms of mesothelioma usually do not show until 20-50 years after asbestos exposure, which is when tumors have grown and spread.
  • The average life expectancy for mesothelioma patients is 12 to 22 months.

Who Gets Mesothelioma?

The typical mesothelioma patient is a man older than 65 with a blue-collar or military background. However, anyone with a history of asbestos exposure is at risk.

Occupations with Greatest Risk of Asbestos Exposure

  • Construction
  • Firefighting
  • Manufacturing
  • Chemical refining
  • Power generation
  • Shipbuilding
  • Military service

Demographic Factors in Mesothelioma Incidence

Mesothelioma incidence describes the risk of getting mesothelioma cancer. Because men are exposed to asbestos more often, they are 4.6 times more likely to be diagnosed with mesothelioma. Of all diagnosed patients, more than 90% are white. Hispanics are diagnosed more frequently than blacks or Asians.

Mesothelioma Incidence by Gender

Bar graph displaying mesothelioma incidence by gender.
Source: SEER Cancer Statistics Review 2012-2015

Mesothelioma Incidence by Race/Ethnicity

Bar graph displaying mesothelioma incidence by race/ethnicity.
Source: CDC National Program of Cancer Registries and SEER, 2003-2008
Quick Fact:
The risk of developing mesothelioma is 10 times higher for people older than 60 compared to people younger than 40.

Latency Period of Mesothelioma

The gap between the first exposure to asbestos and the appearance of symptoms is called the latency period. Mesothelioma symptoms typically appear 20 to 50 years after exposure to asbestos.

Timeline displaying mesothelioma latency period for men and women following asbestos exposure.
Mesothelioma latency period timeline

Average Latency Periods by Mesothelioma Type

  • Pleural Mesothelioma: 30 to 60 years
  • Peritoneal Mesothelioma: 20 to 40 years

Mortality & Survival Rates of Mesothelioma

Mesothelioma is a complex disease, and few doctors have experience diagnosing and treating it. Mesothelioma specialists offer patients the greatest hope.

Death Toll of Mesothelioma

  • From 1999 to 2015, a total of 45,221 Americans died from mesothelioma.
  • Nearly 80% of those deaths occurred among men.
  • About 37% of deaths were people ages 75 to 84.

Mesothelioma Death Rate by State, 1999-2015

U.S. map showing mesothelioma death rates by state
Mesothelioma death rates are highest in the Northeast, Northwest and Midwest.
Source: CDC, 2017

Pleural Mesothelioma Survival Rates by Stage at Diagnosis

Doctors sort mesothelioma cases into stages to describe how far the cancer has spread. The mesothelioma stage at diagnosis affects the patient’s treatment options and prognosis.

Median Survival Time by Mesothelioma Stage
Mesothelioma Stage Median Survival Time
Stage 1 22.2 months
Stage 2 20 months
Stage 3 17.9 months
Stage 4 14.9 months
Source: Journal of Thoracic Oncology, 2016

The National Cancer Institute’s Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results (SEER) program tracks 5-year relative survival rates for pleural mesothelioma by three groups: Localized, regional and distant stages.

5-Year Survival Rates for Pleural Mesothelioma
SEER Stage 5-Year Survival Rate
All SEER Stages 10%
Localized 18%
Regional 12%
Distant 7%
Source: SEER: 2010-2016

Demographic Factors in Mesothelioma Survival Rates

Research shows survival among women diagnosed with pleural mesothelioma is three times higher than survival for men. One 2014 study reported 13.4% of women survive for five years after treatment, compared to only 4.5% of men.

The one-year survival rate is about the same for all races. From three years on, survival is slightly worse for whites.

5-Year Mesothelioma Survival by Race

Bar graph displaying 5-Year mesothelioma survival by race
Source: National Cancer Institute, 2018

Overall, younger mesothelioma patients have a significantly higher survival rate than older patients. More than 50% of patients diagnosed before the age of 50 survive one year, while less than 33% of those 75 or older survive the same length of time.

Mesothelioma specialist speaking with a patient and his wife
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Where Does Mesothelioma Occur?

Most mesothelioma cases occur in the pleura, the tissue lining surrounding the lungs. About 20% of cases appear in the peritoneum, which is the lining of the abdomen.

In 1% of cases, the cancer forms in the pericardium, also known as the lining of the heart. Less than 1% of cases are in the tunica vaginalis, which is the lining of the testes.

Diagram showing the types of mesothelioma as a percentage of all cases
Asbestos usually enters the body through the lungs, which is why pleural mesothelioma is the most common type.

Mesothelioma Survival Rates by Site

Medical advances have made peritoneal mesothelioma easier to treat than pleural mesothelioma. A 2015 study from Translational Oncology reveals a large difference in survival rates.

Line graph displaying survival rates for Pleural and Peritoneal Mesothelioma since the year of diagnosis.
The study data show that most patients survived a year after diagnosis, but longer-term survival rates were higher for peritoneal patients.
Source: Translational Oncology, 2015

Symptoms by Site

Mesothelioma symptoms vary depending on where the cancer forms. Mesothelioma can be challenging to diagnose because early-stage symptoms are usually mild or nonexistent.

Benefits from Cancer Treatment

Mesothelioma treatment may involve surgery, chemotherapy and radiation therapy. Patients can also enroll in clinical trials to try experimental treatments such as immunotherapy.

Key Stats About Mesothelioma Treatment

  • More than 80% of patients receive chemotherapy, the most common treatment for mesothelioma.
  • A 2016 study compiling SEER data showed chemotherapy tripled the survival rate of patients diagnosed with pleural or peritoneal mesothelioma.
  • Less than 20% of pleural mesothelioma patients qualify for aggressive tumor-removing surgery.
  • Half of peritoneal mesothelioma patients who receive HIPEC surgery live longer than five years.

Research has shown improved survival with multimodal therapy, an approach that combines two or more treatments.

A 2018 study presented at the eighth annual European Lung Cancer Congress showed a combination of surgery, chemotherapy and radiation produced an impressive one-year survival rate of 79.6% for pleural mesothelioma patients.

Combining surgery with chemotherapy is also effective for peritoneal mesothelioma. A 2018 International Journal of Hyperthermia study showed median disease-free survival was almost five years for peritoneal patients receiving HIPEC surgery, which combines cytoreductive surgery with heated chemotherapy. The median overall survival for patients in the study was more than eight years.

Only about 20% of pleural mesothelioma patients are eligible for aggressive tumor-removing surgery. For the rest, doctors are testing experimental drug regimens, including immunotherapy drugs already used in lung cancer treatment.

Immunotherapy Drugs Being Tested for Mesothelioma

  • Pembrolizumab (Keytruda)
  • Nivolumab (Opdivo)
  • Ipilimumab (Yervoy)
  • CRS-207
  • WT1 Vaccine

Human studies, called clinical trials, give patients access to the latest breakthroughs in treatment. Researchers have conducted more than 300 clinical trials for mesothelioma worldwide.

Bar graph showing the number of mesothelioma clinical trials per top five countries.
The United States remains a powerhouse for medical research.
Source: ClinicalTrials.gov

Mesothelioma Costs and Compensation

  • Costs: $60,000. The National Cancer Institute statistics estimate the cost of lung cancer treatment at more than $60,000 for the first year. Mesothelioma treatment costs are comparable.
  • Claims: $180,000. The RAND Corporation estimated the median value for mesothelioma claims as $180,000 in a 2010 research report. A 2019 analysis from consulting firm KCIC shows 2,087 mesothelioma lawsuits were filed in 2018.
  • Trusts: $30 Billion. In 2016, the RAND Corporation’s Institute for Civil Justice reported asbestos bankruptcy trusts hold a combined total of more than $30 billion. These trusts have paid claimants roughly $20 billion since the late 1980s.

Get the Compensation You Deserve
Mesothelioma packet from the Mesothelioma Center
Learn About Top Mesothelioma Treatments
Lab technician using a microscope in a lab
Immunotherapy & Mesothelioma Clinical Trials

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