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Mesothelioma Incidence

Mesothelioma incidence is the rate of this asbestos cancer. The number of mesothelioma cases varies by occupation, gender, age and other factors.

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Written by Jenna Campagna, RN

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How Many Cases of Mesothelioma Are Diagnosed Each Year?

According to medical sources, around 3,000 cases of mesothelioma are diagnosed each year in the United States.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and National Cancer Institute (NCI) compiled data from 2003-2008:

  • 3,131 cases in 2003
  • 3,191 cases in 2004
  • 3,284 cases in 2005
  • 3,180 cases in 2006
  • 3,120 cases in 2007
  • 3,105 cases in 2008

The Importance of Mesothelioma Incidence

Studying mesothelioma incidence can lead to better understanding of the disease. The amount of asbestos impacts future rates since the cancer takes 20-50 years to develop.

Researchers also analyze specific characteristics — such as age and gender — to learn who is most at risk of mesothelioma.

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The study of mesothelioma involves observing trends in the occurrences. In medicine, this is known as epidemiology. Experts in this field (epidemiologists) act as detectives. They investigate the causes and trends of deadly diseases.

Epidemiologists collect information based on demographics, symptoms and exposure history. This data helps them predict the future number of cases. The ultimate goal is to prevent the outbreak of future cases.

The most important aspects of analyzing incidence include:

  • Geography
  • Gender
  • Age
  • Race
  • Occupation

Mesothelioma Rates by Region

Specific areas of the United States have a higher incidence of mesothelioma than others. Geographies where asbestos mining occurred (such as Libby, Montana) have significantly higher rates of cases and deaths. The same is true for areas with:

  • Asbestos manufacturing and processing
  • Asbestos importations through shipyards (such as Louisiana)

Data from the CDC and NCI list the states with the highest number of mesothelioma cases per 100,000 residents:

  • Delaware
  • Hawaii
  • Louisiana
  • Massachusetts
  • Minnesota
  • New Hampshire
  • New Jersey
  • Pennsylvania
  • Washington
  • West Virginia
  • Wisconsin
  • Wyoming
USA map with selected sites higlighted in yellow
USA map with selected sites higlighted in yellow
USA map with selected sites higlighted in yellow

Without leveling the rates for population disparities, the highest averages of mesothelioma prevalence per year occur in:

  • California
  • Florida
  • Illinois
  • Massachusetts
  • Michigan
  • New Jersey
  • New York
  • Ohio
  • Pennsylvania
  • Texas
  • Virginia
  • Wisconsin
USA map with selected sites higlighted in yellow
USA map with selected sites higlighted in yellow
USA map with selected sites higlighted in yellow

Mesothelioma in Libby

Epidemiologists didn’t have to work hard to explain why mesothelioma cases were rampant in Libby, Montana. The town had a W.R. Grace plant, which mined vermiculite contaminated with asbestos.

A large proportion of Libby’s population worked at the plant and were exposed to asbestos. They brought sharp fibers home with them on their clothes, exposing their family members to dangerous particles. Even baseball fields were contaminated because W.R. Grace donated its waste dirt from the mine to them.

The mesothelioma incidence rate in Libby is incomparable to other U.S. areas. There have been 2,500 deaths from asbestos-related diseases in the town.

Mesothelioma is very rare, but it’s unheard of for such a high incidence rate from one city. This led to the Libby Epidemiology Research Project. The project’s purpose is to collect data and study the number of mesothelioma cases in Libby.

Mesothelioma Rates by Gender

There is a higher incidence among men than women. Men make up around 80% of pleural mesothelioma cases and 56% of peritoneal mesothelioma. According to the CDC and NCI data, close to 2,400 of the annual 3,000 mesothelioma cases in the U.S. involve men.

The primary reason for this is due to occupational asbestos exposure. Men are traditionally more likely to work in industrial trades. Therefore, they are more exposed to asbestos. Exposure among women is usually due to secondhand exposure from their husband, father or grandfather.

Mesothelioma Rates by Race

Mesothelioma affects all races, but incidence is highest among caucasians. The CDC and NCI report that 93% of cases involve caucasians. Black people make up the next-highest percentage (4.6%), followed by Hispanic people.

The disproportionately low number of cases for minority races could be misleading. Recent reports detail that minorities are less likely to receive screenings or respond to symptoms. There might be thousands of undiagnosed cases among Black and Hispanic people.

Mesothelioma Rates by Age

The number of mesothelioma cases is at its highest for people ages 55 and older. More than 91% of cases involve people in this age group, and more than half are ages 65-84.

Graph divided up by ages showing how Mesothelioma diagnosis rates increase by older age

The explanation for this is a medical term called “latency period.” This refers to how long a disease takes to develop. Mesothelioma’s latency period is 20-50 years after asbestos enters the body.

Mesothelioma Rates by Occupation

Specific jobs have an abnormal mesothelioma incidence rate. People who worked in these jobs have an increased chance of developing this cancer.

The occupations with a lot of cases include:

  • Shipyard workers
  • Military veterans
  • Construction workers
  • Automobile repair workers
  • Insulation workers
  • Electricians
  • Boiler workers
  • Plumbers and pipefitters
  • Plant workers
  • Miners
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