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Mesothelioma is rare, but approximately 3,000 people receive a diagnosis per year in the United States. The overall incidence of mesothelioma has reached a peak and is now tapering off thanks to restrictions on asbestos use.
How Common Is Malignant Mesothelioma – Incidence of Mesothelioma in the U.S.
Mesothelioma is not common among cancers. The number of mesothelioma cases per year in the U.S. is around 3,000 and dropping.
According to the most recent mesothelioma statistics from the National Cancer Institute, the incidence of mesothelioma from 2015 to 2019 was 0.8 cases per 100,000 people. Among women, the incidence is 0.4, and among men, it is 1.3.
Why Is Mesothelioma So Rare?
Researchers don’t fully understand why mesothelioma is rare. The leading cause is asbestos exposure, but most people exposed to it never develop mesothelioma. There is likely a genetic component that makes some people more susceptible to mesothelioma after being exposed to asbestos.
Mesothelioma Incidence by Gender
Researchers can form a picture of who is at risk and why by looking at the incidence of certain diseases in specific populations. Understanding incidence also helps pinpoint causes for a disease. Here are some mesothelioma facts by gender:
- According to the National Cancer Institute, the incidence of mesothelioma in the United States is consistently higher in men than women.
- Incidence peaked for both in the 1990s. Since then, there has been a considerable downward trend.
- In 2019, the mesothelioma rate in men was 1.3 per 100,000.
- In women, it was 0.4.
The difference in incidence between men and women is typically explained by the major risk factor for mesothelioma. More men than women have worked in industries that put them at risk of asbestos exposure.
Mesothelioma Incidence by Age
Incidence also varies by age:
- The incidence of mesothelioma is higher for older Americans.
- Between 2015 and 2019, the incidence for people over 75 was 7.0.
- For those between 50 and 64, it was only 0.7.
- People between the ages of 65 and 74 showed an incidence of 3.3.
- The incidence of mesothelioma in people between 15 and 39 is just 0.1.
By age, the incidence grows as the population gets older because mesothelioma has a long latency period. It can take decades to develop symptoms and receive a diagnosis.
Mesothelioma Incidence by Disease Stage
Mesothelioma progress is described by state, but incidence statistics are collected based on more general terms. Localized mesothelioma is in the early stages and has not spread. Regional mesothelioma has spread within the area of the original tumor. Distant mesothelioma is late-stage, metastatic cancer.
Incidence rates by stage are:
- Localized – 0.1 diagnoses per 100,000
- Regional – 0.2 diagnoses per 100,000
- Distant – 0.4 diagnoses per 100,000
Mesothelioma is more often diagnosed in the later stages of the disease, as seen in incidence rates. This is because mesothelioma is rare and causes symptoms similar to more common diseases. These factors make it difficult to diagnose and ensure misdiagnoses are common.
According to incidence trends, mesothelioma in any stage is decreasing. Diagnosis of distant mesothelioma is decreasing most rapidly.
Incidence of Mesothelioma by Job
Occupation is a major factor in the incidence of mesothelioma. The main cause of mesothelioma is asbestos exposure. Workers in industries that commonly used asbestos have a higher risk of developing mesothelioma.
While the link between asbestos and mesothelioma is now common knowledge, there was a time the connection was not so clear. High incidence rates in industries with asbestos helped clarify the role it plays in this disease.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) listed the occupations with the highest incidences of mesothelioma. These occupations are:
- Construction workers
- Workers in chemical industries
In the United Kingdom, a country with higher rates of mesothelioma, occupations with the highest incidences include carpenters, joiners, construction workers, electricians, plumbers, metal workers, and heating and ventilation workers.
Incidence in Shipyards
Construction workers, pipefitters, steamfitters, plumbers, electricians, and others have higher risks of developing mesothelioma, particularly in one industry: shipbuilding and repair.
An epidemiological study of Virginia’s coastal shipyards found the incidence of mesothelioma was four times higher for shipbuilders than the national average.
Understanding incidence in specific industries, occupations, and regions, helps pinpoint exactly where people are at risk. By discovering the high incidence of mesothelioma in Virginia shipyard workers, researchers provided information that led to safer working conditions in the industry.
Mesothelioma Cases by State
Epidemiological studies of mesothelioma have discovered certain areas are more affected than the rest of the country. New Jersey, for instance, has one of the highest incidences of mesothelioma.
The Johns Manville Corporation is most likely responsible. This company operated an asbestos plant in Manville, New Jersey for decades. The incidence of mesothelioma among Manville workers was twenty-five times higher than the national average.
Other areas with higher incidences of mesothelioma include areas of Washington, Louisiana, Connecticut, New Mexico, California, Utah, and Detroit, Michigan. Some of these are explained by the presence of asbestos mines, shipyards, or other industries that used asbestos.
New York City is expected to see an increase in the incidence of mesothelioma in the coming decades as people exposed to dust from the World Trade Center attacks develop the disease.
How Are Mesothelioma Rates Changing in the U.S.?
As the use of asbestos has dropped, so is the incidence of mesothelioma. Limitations on the use of asbestos were put in place in the 1970s, but there has been a lag between decreased use of asbestos and a drop in mesothelioma incidence.
The lag exists because of the long latency period of mesothelioma. Symptoms and diagnosis don’t usually occur until decades after the initial exposure. Mesothelioma incidence peaked in the 1990s and is now decreasing.
Recent trends show that the incidence of mesothelioma in the U.S. dropped by 1.1% from 2000 to 2012 and by 4.2% from 2012 to 2019. The rate of decrease in mesothelioma cases is accelerating. The rate of decrease is highest in people aged 50 to 64 and in men.
Worldwide Incidence of Mesothelioma
For most of the United States, the incidence of mesothelioma has reached a peak and begun to decline. This decrease is due to increased regulations on asbestos use and workplace safety.
Other countries are still experiencing an upward trend, including developed nations like the United Kingdom and Australia. The overall incidence is still rising around the world.
According to a study of diagnoses from 1990 to 2017, the worldwide mesothelioma incidence continues to rise. The researchers recorded 34,625 new cases and 29,909 deaths in 2017. More than 70% of these were in men.
The study also found that mesothelioma incidence declined in countries with total asbestos bans. The decrease in cases began about 20 years after the implementation of a ban.
The Importance of Measuring Mesothelioma Incidence
Understanding the incidence of a disease like mesothelioma is important for understanding the disease itself. Incidence helps explain the causes of the disease. It also helps those at risk by shedding light on risk factors, such as age, gender, industry, occupation, and geographical location.Get Your FREE Mesothelioma Packet
Page Medically Reviewed and Edited by Anne Courtney, AOCNP, DNP
Anne Courtney has a Doctor of Nursing Practice degree and is an Advanced Oncology Certified Nurse Practitioner. She has years of oncology experience working with patients with malignant mesothelioma, as well as other types of cancer. Dr. Courtney currently works at University of Texas LIVESTRONG Cancer Institutes.