Mesothelioma is a disease that can develop after someone is exposed to a toxic substance known as asbestos. While anyone can be diagnosed with mesothelioma, it’s a disease that primarily affects seniors.

Here are 10 facts to help you better understand mesothelioma:

1. Around 3,000 People Are Diagnosed Each Year in the United States

Mesothelioma is considered a rare disease because it affects less than 200,000 people each year. Out of the 3,000 people diagnosed, most cases are pleural mesothelioma and the next most common type is peritoneal mesothelioma. According to the American Society of Clinical Oncology, the number of patients diagnosed with mesothelioma each year is no longer increasing and may even be decreasing in men.

2. Veterans Comprise 30% of All Mesothelioma Cases

Every branch of the military used asbestos in some way for the majority of the 20th century. However, Navy veterans were considered to be at a higher risk of asbestos exposure than veterans in other branches. Many naval ships were built with asbestos because of its fire-retarded and insulant properties, putting anyone on board at risk. Veterans who worked in shipyards or as engineers also encountered this toxic substance.

3. The Latency Period Is 20-40 Years After Exposure

The time is takes for mesothelioma to develop after asbestos exposure is called the latency period. A key factor in determining the latency period is the extent of asbestos exposure a person experienced. Usually, the longer a person is exposed to asbestos the shorter their latency period is.

4. Common Age Range for Diagnosis Is Between 50 and 70 years old

Since mesothelioma takes around 20-40 years to develop, most patients are diagnosed after they reach age 50. Patients are usually diagnosed after a biopsy is done to show abnormalities in the lining of the lungs, abdomen or heart. A mesothelioma prognosis can be anywhere from a few years to a couple of months depending on the patient’s stage of mesothelioma. Sometimes patients are able to extend their life expectancy with an early diagnosis and aggressive treatment.

5. The Only Proven Cause of Mesothelioma Is Asbestos Exposure

Asbestos is a mineral found underground. When disturbed, tiny fibers are released into the air and inhaled. These fibers can get lodged in the lungs and over time cause a mutation of cells, which turn into cancer. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, there is no safe level of asbestos exposure.

6. Pleural Mesothelioma Makes Up 75% of Cases

The most common form of this disease is pleural mesothelioma. This cancer forms in the lungs after asbestos fibers are inhaled and get lodged in the lining of the organ. Symptoms may include shortness of breath, a persistent cough or a fever. A doctor will run more tests to see if the cancer has spread and determine the specific stage of mesothelioma.

7. People Are More Commonly Exposed to Asbestos at Work

Asbestos was widely used in many occupations up until the late 1980s. Railroad workers, shipbuilders and construction workers are considered to have been exposed to asbestos the most. The United States has not yet banned the use of asbestos. However, there have been regulations set in place to protect people in these high-risk professions.

8. There Are Few Approved Treatments for Mesothelioma

There are several treatment options available to patients with mesothelioma. Treatments include surgery, chemotherapy, radiation or a mixture of all three. Each patient’s case is unique and not all treatments are right for everyone. It is up to the doctor or mesothelioma specialist to decide which treatment plan is right for their patient.

9. The Majority of Patients Are Men

Due to occupational differences, mesothelioma is much more common in men than in women. This is because more men worked in occupations that were considered high-risk for asbestos exposure. Men who worked as construction workers, factory workers or in the military were most often exposed to this substance for prolonged periods of time.

10. Mesothelioma Clinical Trials Can Prolong Life Expectancy

Advances in research means there are more opportunities for patients to take part in clinical trials. These studies give patients an opportunity to try new treatments not yet available to the general public. Patients can apply for as many clinical trials as they want until they are selected for one.


  1. What is a Rare Disease. Rare Disease Day. Retrieved from: Accessed: 11/26/19
  2. Mesothelioma: Statistics. American Society of Clinical Oncology. Retrieved from: 
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  4. Risk Factors for Malignant Mesothelioma. American Cancer Society. Retrieved from: Accessed: 11/25/19
  5. Asbestos exposure and mesothelioma mortality among atomic veterans. Taylor & Francis Online. Retrieved from: Accessed: 11/26/19
  6. Asbestos.Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Retrieved from: Accessed: 11/26/19
  7. Mesothelioma. National Organization for Rare Disorders. Retrieved from: Accessed: 11/26/19
  8. Mesothelioma: About Clinical Trials. American Society of Clinical Oncology. Retrieved from: Accessed: 11/26/19

Categories: Diseases & Condition


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