Mesothelioma Rates Steady Despite Declining Asbestos Use


Although asbestos use in the United States has been in decline for more than 30 years, the threat of mesothelioma is still very real.

A new CDC analysis of data from the National Program for Cancer Registries and the Surveillance, Epidemiology and End Results program shows that mesothelioma rates in the U.S. remained steady from 2003 to 2008. The National Program for Cancer Registries is a national database of all cancer cases in the U.S. It allows the CDC to observe and track trends and find patterns in cancer occurrence.

The newly-released CDC mesothelioma analysis was based on the theory that “the decline in asbestos use in the United States may impact mesothelioma incidence.”  But according to a summary of the findings in the International Journal for Occupational and Environmental Health, that has not happened. In the five- year period studied, there were an average of 1 – 5 mesothelioma cases diagnosed per 100,000 people in the U.S. The overall number of cases diagnosed each year remained relatively level, although the number of men contracting mesothelioma did decrease. Among women, the incidence of mesothelioma remained steady.

Mesothelioma is the most deadly of the diseases known to be caused by exposure to asbestos. Because of the shape of the tiny fibers, the body appears to be unable to rid itself of inhaled or ingested asbestos, triggering a chain of physiological reactions that can result in mesothelioma even decades after initial exposure. Although mesothelioma is rare, it is very aggressive and median survival is about 12 months, although there are some long-term survivors.

Before it was publicly linked to mesothelioma in the 1960s and 1970s, asbestos was used in everything from building products to home insulation, brake linings, and even fire-proof Christmas decorations. But when workers began to get sick and die of mesothelioma, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) instituted regulations designed to protect workers and the public from asbestos. Nonetheless, there is no comprehensive asbestos ban in the United States.

Today, an estimated 2,500 to 3,200 cases of mesothelioma are diagnosed in the U.S. each year. Based on these numbers, the CDC report concludes that “the U.S. population is still at risk.”


Henley, Jane, “Mesothelioma incidence in 50 states and the District of Columbia, United States, 2003-2008”, Jan-Mar. 2013, International Journal of Occupational and Environmental Health.

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