Mesothelioma by the Numbers

Mesothelioma is a rare but severe cancer linked primarily to asbestos exposure. Find out who is most at risk.

Mesothelioma is a rare but severe form of cancer that affects the tissue lining of various organs — especially the lungs. The majority of people who are diagnosed with the condition have been exposed to asbestos, usually at their job. Here are some vital statistics on mesothelioma:

  • Mesothelioma is rare compared to most other cancers.

In 2005, there were an estimated 4,361 people in the United States living with the disease, with nearly 60 percent of the men. Each year, a likely 2,000 to 3,000 new cases are

diagnosed

.•    Pleural mesothelioma, which affects the lining of the lungs, is the most common type of mesothelioma.

Pleural mesothelioma accounts for about 75 percent of mesothelioma diagnoses; peritoneal mesothelioma (which affects the abdominal cavity) is the next most common type, accounting for 10 to 20 percent of cases.

  • The average survival time for mesothelioma ranges between 4 and 18 months.

But about 10 percent of people with mesothelioma live at least five years after being diagnosed, and in rare cases of slow-growing mesothelioma, patients can live up to 20 years from diagnosis.

  • Asbestos exposure at work is the leading cause of mesothelioma.

Between 70 and 80 percent of patients with mesothelioma say they were exposed to asbestos at work. But the disease also has occurred in people with no light asbestos exposure.

  • The time between exposure to asbestos and mesothelioma symptoms can be very long.

Mesothelioma often takes decades to produce symptoms, sometimes as long as 30 to 40 years.

  • Asbestos exposure at work is the leading cause of mesothelioma.

Between 70 and 80 percent of patients with mesothelioma say they were exposed to asbestos at work. But the disease also has occurred in people with no light asbestos exposure.

  • The time between exposure to asbestos and mesothelioma symptoms can be very long.

Mesothelioma often takes decades to produce symptoms, sometimes as long as 30 to 40 years.

  • Mesothelioma impacts whites and Latinos more than other racial groups.

In the United States, the mesothelioma rate in whites and Latinos is roughly twice the rate in African-Americans and four times the rate in Asian-Americans. Between 1999 and 2005, 95 percent of mesothelioma deaths occurred in whites.

  • After decades on the rise, deaths from mesothelioma may soon start to decline.

The annual number of mesothelioma deaths increased from 2,482 in 1999 to 2,704 in 2005, but yearly deaths are expected to reach their maximum by 2010, and then decline. This is mainly due to fewer people being exposed to asbestos in the workplace as a result of government regulations.

  • An estimated 1.3 million industrial workers still face significant asbestos exposure at work.

However, today asbestos exposure is rigorously regulated by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency to minimize health risks.

  • Some industries pose more risk for asbestos exposure and mesothelioma than others.

Shipyards present the highest risk, followed by industrial and chemicals plants, petroleum refineries, electric power utilities, and the construction industry.

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