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Mesothelioma Incidence in the US: The Good News and the Bad News

Mesothelioma incidence A new study on mesothelioma incidence in the US contains some good news and some bad news.

The good news is that the incidence of the asbestos cancer is finally dropping in the US, after years of growth.

The bad news is that, if you live in the Northern part of the US, you are more likely to be exposed to the toxin and your mesothelioma risk is higher.

The Good News About Mesothelioma Incidence in the US

Asbestos is the primary cause of mesothelioma around the globe and in the US.

Asbestos is a naturally-occurring mineral that is resistant to fire and corrosion. It was mined at several sites in the US and used in thousands of consumer products from the 1940s well into the 1980s.

Study author Dr. Hongbing Sun says mesothelioma incidence in the US rose with the popularity of asbestos.

The good news is that the two rates have also gone down together.

“Decline of malignant mesothelioma incidence and mortality rates in the US occurred about 20 years after the peak of asbestos consumption-production in 1973,” writes Dr. Sun.

Scientists knew about the link between asbestos and mesothelioma for decades. In 1973, the government finally began to place some restrictions on its use.

Malignant mesothelioma has continued to decline very slightly every year since then. Today, about 2,500 people are diagnosed with the asbestos cancer annually.

The Bad News

The bad news about mesothelioma incidence in the US is that it still occurs at all.

There is no cure for mesothelioma. Depending on the type, most people who receive a mesothelioma diagnosis die within about 18 months.

But the study contains another sobering fact, especially for people who live in the North.

Most houses built in the 1980s or earlier contain some asbestos. Asbestos made a highly effective insulator and added strength to materials like concrete and joint compound. Asbestos shingles were fire resistant.

These qualities made asbestos a popular building material, especially in Northern states with harsher climates. More asbestos likely meant more exposure and a higher incidence of mesothelioma in the North.

“North-South malignant mesothelioma gradients between 1999 and 2015 were likely related to larger asbestos requirements in building materials in the northern states,” writes Dr. Sun.

Dr. Sun is with the Health Studies Institute at New Jersey’s Rider University. The new report on mesothelioma incidence in the US appears in the American Journal of Industrial Medicine.


Sun, H, “North-south gradient of mesothelioma and asbestos consumption-production in the United States-Progresses since the 1st asbestos partial ban in 1973”, January 31, 2019, American Journal of Industrial Medicine, Epub ahead of print, https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1002/ajim.22955

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