Mesothelioma Survival Rates

Mesothelioma is a relatively rare cancer of the mesothelium, or the layer of tissue covering the internal organs of the body. It’s caused by exposure to asbestos, a natural fiber historically used in building and insulation. Keep reading to learn important mesothelioma information, such as mesothelioma risk factors and mesothelioma survival rates.

Mesothelioma: Prevalence and Incidence

“Prevalence” and “incidence” are terms used to describe how common or rare a particular disease is within a population. These terms can be confusing, and are sometimes (incorrectly) used interchangeably. The difference is as follows:

  • Incidence refers to the frequency with which a disease occurs in new cases.
  • Prevalence is the number of people affected by a disease at any given time, or how prevalent it is within a population. This includes both new cases and people who have received a prior diagnosis and continue to live with the disease.

According to mesothelioma information collected by the American Cancer Society, between 2,000 and 3,000 new cases of mesothelioma are diagnosed each year in the United States. In addition, mesothelioma affects four times as many men as women, due primarily to the fact that at-risk jobs were historically held more often by men.

As mesothelioma takes decades to develop after asbestos exposure, diagnosis is more common in older individuals. In 2005, the National Cancer Institute’s Surveillance Epidemiology and End Results (SEER) data indicated that there were just fewer than 4,500 people living with mesothelioma in 2002.

Mesothelioma and Asbestos Exposure

Exposure to asbestos influences incidence rates of mesothelioma. While there may be other risk factors, asbestos exposure is the main cause of mesothelioma. According to the National Cancer Institute, a history of asbestos exposure is reported in 70 to 80 percent of cases of mesothelioma. Inhalation and ingestion of airborne asbestos fibers can cause cell changes and cancerous cell growth in the mesothelium of different organs of the body, including:

  • Abdominal organs
  • Heart
  • Lungs.

Certain groups have a higher than normal incidence of the disease, including individuals who work in construction, and those who served in the military.

Though asbestos is the accepted cause of mesothelioma, other risk factors can increase your likelihood of developing the disease. One significant risk factor is smoking. While smoking alone does not cause mesothelioma, it can increase the risk of mesothelioma for people who are exposed to asbestos.

Mesothelioma Survival Rates

Mesothelioma survival rates depend on several factors. Mesothelioma, like other cancers, is assigned a stage based on its severity and whether it has spread to other areas of the body, including surrounding lymph nodes. If you have mesothelioma, the stage of the cancer, your risk factors and your overall health contribute to your prognosis.

The National Cancer Institute’s SEER data (2005) concluded that for an individual (any race or gender) diagnosed in 2001 with invasive mesothelioma, the one-year survival rate was approximately 40 percent. However, the two-year survival rate was less than half that. Because mesothelioma is often diagnosed late, it’s has already typically reached an advanced stage by the time of diagnosis. Development of methods for reliable early diagnosis may help to increase survival rates for mesothelioma.


National Cancer Institute Staff. (n.d.). Mesothelioma: questions and answers. Retrieved December 26, 2009, from the National Cancer Institute Web site:

National Cancer Institute Staff. (2005). SEER cancer statistics review 1975-2002. Retrieved December 26, 2009, from the National Cancer Institute Web site:

American Cancer Society Staff. (n.d.). What are the key statistics about malignant mesothelioma? Retrieved December 26, 2009, from the American Cancer Society Web site:

Tirgan Staff. (n.d.). Incidence vs. prevalence. Retrieved December 26, 2009, from the Tirgan Web site: