Mesothelioma Incidence

Incidence describes the risk of developing a condition during a specific period of time. Incidence is frequently mistaken for prevalence which provides information about the total number of cases of a particular disease in a given population. In other words, incidence pertains to the risk of contracting a disease and prevalence is a measure of how widespread a disease is in a population.

The incidence of mesothelioma can be viewed as an indicator of asbestos exposure. In the United States, mesothelioma occurs in approximately 2,000 to 3,000 people per year. Nearly one-tenth of mesothelioma diagnoses occur in Florida alone. The sharp increase in cases seen in 1970s and 1990s has transitioned to a steady and level pattern.

Interestingly, mesothelioma develops in a minority of individuals in the total population that have been exposed to asbestos. Much like pancreatic cancer, the incidence of mesothelioma equals the mortality rate. This testifies to the rapidly progressive and ultimately lethal course of mesothelioma. However, patients may seek treatment to help combat the cancer which can yield positive results. The observed gradual decline in mesothelioma cases offers a welcome reduction in the health and economic burden of this asbestos-related illness.

Mesothelioma by State and Gender

The coastal regions of California, Florida and New Jersey are home to the majority of mesothelioma cases. The town of Libby in Montana is the location of a large number of mesothelioma cases, largely due to the existence of an asbestos-tainted vermiculite mine owned by W.R. Grace and Co. for more than 40 years. Two hundred people in Libby have passed away from mesothelioma and hundreds have expressed symptoms of asbestos-related illnesses.

Hampton Roads shipyards, located in Virginia, has also been identified as a mesothelioma "hot spot," with the incidence of mesothelioma in shipyard workers being five times that of the national average, according to a study conducted by the Mount Siani School of Medicine in New York. Additional areas where hazardous shipyards were active include Seattle, San Francisco-Oakland, Louisiana, Texas and Hawaii.

New York City also presented danger of asbestos exposure following September 11 when the Twin Towers collapsed, releasing a large number of asbestos toxins into the air.

There is a significant male predominance of mesothelioma cases compared to females, as reflected in a 4:1 ratio. A male predominance is consistent regardless of age group. The male incidence rate increases with age and mesothelioma cases peak in the 65 to 74 age range. This pattern is strongly reflective of the correlation between the long latency period (the time it takes for the disease to present itself following asbestos exposure) of mesothelioma and the large amount of asbestos exposure that occurred in the 1960s.

Mesothelioma by Occupation

Asbestos-contaminated products were widely used in a number of industries throughout the 20th century, placing many workers at risk of asbestos exposure. Asbestos use was more prevalent in certain fields, subjecting workers in specific jobs to the dangers associated with exposure. Specific workers who may have experienced a greater risk of exposure include: auto mechanics, chemical plant and power plant workers, shipbuilders (specifically those who worked during World War II), construction workers, plumbers, pipefitters, insulators and electricians.

Mesothelioma Worldwide

Worldwide, the incidence of mesothelioma is increasing. A peak in cases is not expected until after the year 2020. In Western Europe, approximately 5,000 people pass away as a result of mesothelioma every year. However, mesothelioma incidence varies widely from one country to another. Moreover, there is a significant deficit in reliable information concerning mesothelioma incidence in several countries. Because incidence and mortality rates closely track each other, some countries estimate mesothelioma incidence directly from mortality data.

The highest incidence rates are seen in countries such as Australia, Belgium and Great Britain, with 30 cases per million people. In Great Britain in particular, high mortality rates have been observed in metal plate workers, vehicle body builders, plumbers and gas fitters and carpenters.

Naturally, the highest rates of asbestos are observed in areas where occupational exposures are greatest. Examples include insulation workers, shipyard workers and dockworkers. In contrast, many countries with verifiably high exposures to asbestos have low incidence rates. It is unknown why this is the case. While the United States enjoys a leveling-off of mesothelioma occurrence, many countries expect increases in mesothelioma incidence.

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