Patients who are informed about mesothelioma may be more able to participate in treatment planning.  Family members and loved ones may also benefit from knowledge of mesothelioma facts and statistics, along with general information about the disease and treatment options.

Mesothelioma Facts and Statistics

Mesothelioma is an extremely rare, aggressive type of cancer that is caused by asbestos exposure.  Patients who are diagnosed with mesothelioma tumors may benefit from a number of traditional treatment methods such as surgery, chemotherapy and radiation but when newer, advanced treatment procedures are used, survival rates may be increased.  Each case is unique and patients should seek advice and treatment from a mesothelioma specialist to ensure the best outcome.

Patients and family members should know some critical facts and statistics about mesothelioma.

Facts and Statistics About Mesothelioma Cancer

  • Mesothelioma is one of the rarest types of cancer, with only about 3,000 new cases diagnosed each year in the U.S.
  • Mesothelioma is most commonly caused by exposure to asbestos, a mineral that was used for high-heat applications and insulation.
  • Asbestos causes mesothelioma after the dust is inhaled or ingested to lodge in the body tissues, where it remains for many years
  • Mesothelioma occurs four times as often in men than in women. Men represent 80% of diagnosed cases, while women only represent 20%.
  • There are four major areas that mesothelioma can affect – lungs, abdomen, heart and testicles
  • Pleural mesothelioma which affects the lungs accounts for about 75% of all mesothelioma cases.
  • Peritoneal mesothelioma, affects the abdominal cavity and is the second most common form of mesothelioma, accounting for 20 to 25% of new diagnoses.
  • Pericardial mesothelioma accounts for only about 1% of all mesothelioma cases but is often not identified until after a patient has died.
  • Testicular mesothelioma is the rarest type of the cancer, responsible for less than 1% of all diagnoses.
  • Symptoms of mesothelioma may not appear for 20 to 50 years after exposure to asbestos occurred
  • 90% of mesothelioma diagnoses are given to patients over the age of 60
  • There are 4 times as many people being diagnosed with mesothelioma today than there were in the 1980s.
  • The number of mesothelioma cases has been rising over the past four decades but is expected to peak in 2016 due to the banning of asbestos in the 1980s.

Facts and Statistics About Asbestos

  • Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral that is located in deposits in certain regions of the U.S. and around the world.
  • Two major types of asbestos (chrysotile and amphibole) were used in manufacturing, construction and insulation products.
  • 55 countries have banned asbestos, but use inside of the U.S. continues today in certain products that have been deemed “low risk”.
  • Asbestos is still widely used in parts of Asia and Eastern Europe.
  • Many older buildings, military installations, ships, planes and vehicles, and other products still contain asbestos and still pose a threat.
  • Asbestos removal and demolition can pose a significant threat to those in the area.
  • In many cases, when asbestos is identified in buildings, asbestos is contained and left in place, rather than removed due to the danger.

Facts and Statistics About Asbestos Products

  • Asbestos product manufacturing and use exposed hundreds of thousands of people in the U.S. to the harmful substance and put them at risk for mesothelioma
  • Asbestos has been used in a number of industrial products and applications which required insulation, fire resistance or protection from heat.
  • Its use in the Western world reportedly began in the late 1800s when it was identified as a high value heat insulator
  • It was widely used in construction, industrial and military applications until the late 1970s and early 1980s when federal agencies began to ban the substance’s use.
  • Asbestos was widely used in both industrial and residential construction, pipefitting, steel work and military construction on ships, and the manufacturing of planes, and vehicles
  • Asbestos has been woven into flexible fabrics, molded into a rubber-like state, mixed with other substances for a cement-like product and used as part of filters, lubricants and auto parts
  • One company employed asbestos as part of a cigarette filter
  • Asbestos was also used in the manufacture of toasters, electric hair dryers and other small appliances
  • Other asbestos products in the home also included ceiling tiles and insulation (including “popcorn” ceilings), floor tiles, wall boards, and heating insulation.
  • The chrysotile (or serpentine) type of asbestos is considered less toxic by some due to its “curly” fibers that are more flexible than other types but it was used in 90% of asbestos-related products and is responsible for a large number of mesothelioma cases.
  • The amphibole type of asbestos includes amosite and crocidolite sub-types which are comprised of brittle, needle-like fibers that may be considered to be more dangerous but they were used in only about 10% of all products.

Facts and Statistics About Exposure to Asbestos

  • More than 125 million people in the U.S. were estimated to have been exposed to asbestos and were put at risk for developing mesothelioma
  • Most people were exposed to asbestos through their work, known as “occupational exposure”
  • A large percentage of mesothelioma patients are Veterans who were exposed during military service
  • The highest risk occupations for asbestos exposure included mining, pipefitting, steel work, ship-building, industrial, commercial, residential and military construction, and automotive manufacturing
  • Firefighters have been exposed to asbestos in flame-resistant clothing
  • Family members of asbestos industry workers may also have experienced “secondary” exposure when fibers and dust were transported into the home on contaminated apparel.
  • Since banning of asbestos became large-scale, an estimated 45,000 Americans have died from related diseases
  • The number of mesothelioma diagnoses have been rising since asbestos was identified as harmful but numbers are expected to peak in the near future as fewer people were exposed after widespread use was discontinued
  • Thousands of people who were in the Twin Towers area during 9/11 may have been exposed to asbestos
  • Thousands of first responders, demolition and removal workers, volunteers and other people may have been exposed during search and recovery efforts, demolition and debris removal at the Twin Towers site after 9/11
  • A fund to aid victims of mesothelioma with medical treatments has been set up by government agencies and industries which used asbestos in production or construction.
  • Up to $3 billion may remain in this fund
  • Veterans who were exposed to asbestos during active-duty are eligible for assistance from the Veterans Administration.
  • Depending on the specific case, VA assistance may include medical coverage, disability assistance and surviving spouse benefits

Facts and Statistics About Mesothelioma Treatment

  • There is no known cure for mesothelioma but there are many treatment options
  • Treatments may be categorized as ‘’curative” which is intended to improve life expectancy and reduce disease progression, or “palliative” which is intended to improve patient quality of life by reducing severity of symptoms
  • Mesothelioma diagnosis is often delayed as symptoms are similar to other medical disorders
  • Without treatment, life expectancy of mesothelioma patients is often measured in a few months
  • When identified in early stages, mesothelioma treatment may extend life expectancy by many months or years
  • Treatments developed within the last decade such as Hyperthermic or Heated Intraperitoneal Chemotherapy (HIPEC), Intensity-Modulated Radiation Therapy (IMRT), robotic-assisted and new surgical procedures, and newer medications have had a significant impact on improved patient outcome
  • Mesothelioma research is a continuing process with many clinical trials and investigational studied being conducted every year
  • Most of these clinical studies are located at specialty mesothelioma cancer centers
  • Most studies are run by mesothelioma specialists who treat multiple patients every year and have dedicated a portion of their professional practice to the treatment of mesothelioma
  • New treatments developed in clinical studies are improving the survival rates of mesothelioma
  • Medical treatments received in the course of a mesothelioma clinical trial are most commonly provided free of charge
  • Unfortunately, only a small percentage of patients have taken part in a clinical trial for the treatment of mesothelioma

Other Interesting Facts About Asbestos

  • Asbestos may have been used as far back as 4,500 B.C. in Finland for clay pots and utensils
  • Asbestos was identified as a possible cause of illness and subsequent death in ancient Egypt due to early deaths of large numbers of slaves involved in rock mining and construction
  • The word asbestos comes from a geek word that technically means “indistinguishable” but was erroneously used to describe a fiber which could be woven into incombustible fabric.
  • During the middle ages, asbestos was considered to be the wool of mythical creatures known as salamanders.
  • Pope Alexander III may have had robes or a tunic made from asbestos fabric.





American Cancer Society, (18 May 2015), What is Mesothelioma?, ACS, Accessed on 13 January 2016

Medline Plus, (12 January 2016), Mesothelioma, U.S. National Library of Medicine, Accessed on 13 January 2016

MSKCC, (2016), About Mesothelioma, Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, Accessed on 13 January 2016

Mesothelioma Applied Research Foundation, (2013), What is Mesothelioma?, MARF, Accessed on 13 January 2016

National Cancer Institute, (2016), Malignant Mesothelioma – Health Professional Version, National Institutes of Health, Accessed on 13 January 2016